Canadians should have quicker access to innovative drugs: MEI

Canada’s drug approval system is slower than that of the United States or the European Union, a new Montreal Economic Institute publication points out.

A new publication from the Montreal Economic Institute offers recommendations to enable Canadians to gain quicker access to innovative drugs, the importance of which has risen in light of COVID-19, says the think tank.

The latest MEI Economic note publication is Shortening Approval Delays for New Drugs: A Safe, Straightforward Prescription.

“Pharmaceutical innovation represents one of the great triumphs of modern times— in fact, it is estimated that 73 percent of the increase in life expectancy in recent decades is explained by the emergence of new drugs,” says Maria Lily Shaw, Economist at the MEI. “Moreover, it is much less expensive to treat medical conditions with drugs than with hospital resources.”

Krystle Wittevrongel, Public Policy Analyst at the MEI, added that “unfortunately, Canada’s drug approval system is slower than that of the United States or the European Union.

"In fact, approval times in Canada are three months longer on average than in the United States, and one month longer than in Europe. Not to mention that pharmaceutical companies generally begin the approval process in Canada between three and eighteen months after having started the same process in the United States or Europe. It’s a substantial lag, and a costly one."

Shaw said one recommendation for faster drug approval is "maintaining the use of rolling submissions for new drug approval applications, which is currently in effect due to an Interim Order issued by the Minister of Health.

"By allowing pharmaceutical companies to submit incomplete applications at first and then add new information as it becomes available, we can gain precious months in the approval process. It’s clear that a COVID-19 vaccine would never have been approved so quickly without this measure.”

Secondly, says Wittevrongel, "agreements with the American and European authorities would allow us to substantially accelerate the authorization of new drugs that have already been approved in these countries. It’s a very simple and rational solution that would allow us to reduce the gap between Canada and other industrialized countries in terms of access to innovative drugs."

The full MEI publication can be seen at

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