1Associate Professor, Faculties of Medicine and Law, Health Law Institute, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS.
2Research Associate, Faculty of Medicine, Novel Tech Ethics, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS.
We examined whether access to US-approved orphan drugs in Canada has changed between 1997 (when Canada chose not to adopt an orphan drug policy) and 2012 (when Canada reversed its policy decision). Specifically, we looked at two dimensions of access to US-approved orphan drugs in Canada: (1) regulatory access; and (2) temporal access. Whereas only 63% of US-approved orphan drugs were granted regulatory approval in 1997, we found that regulatory access to US-approved orphan drugs in Canada increased to 74% between 1997 and 2012. However, temporal access to orphan drugs is slower in Canada: in a head-on comparison of 40 matched drugs, only two were submitted and four were approved first in Canada; moreover, the mean review time in Canada (423 days) was longer than that in the US (mean = 341 days), a statistically significant difference (t = 2.04, p = 0.048). These results raise questions about what motivated Canada's apparent shift in orphan drug policy.