RU 486 Abortion Drug Headed to Canada and Elsewhere

OTTAWA - The dangerous French abortion pill RU-486 could be available in Canada within six months, says an official with the Paris-based company that manufactures the drug.

Until now, Exelgyn has refused to sell the pill in Canada, a country where, it contends, "you kill people who do abortions."

But now that another manufacturer has announced it will release the abortifacient in the U.S. in October, Exelgyn has changed its mind about selling it in Canada. "As soon as [RU-486] is launched on the U.S. market, we will apply for registration, but not before," said Catherine Euvrard, an Exelgyn spokeswoman. "It would be very difficult to have it in Canada and not in the United States."

The abortion drug has sparked worldwide protests since it was developed in France in 1982. In Germany and Spain, pro-life groups have organized boycotts and protests. This week, the Roman Catholic Church condemned its use, and American opponents have termed it a "human pesticide."

Unlike surgical abortions, which are not usually performed before the sixth week of pregnancy, a woman can take RU-486 the moment she learns she's pregnant until the seventh week.

Hoechst AG, the German chemical giant that owned the patent rights, refused to sell the drug outside of France for fear of a consumer backlash. In 1994, it relinquished the U.S. rights to a New York-based pro-abortion organization called the Population Council, which after a long series of setbacks is bringing the product to market this fall.

Exelgyn, a private company owned by one of RU-486's inventors, now holds the world rights.

There's been no shortage of political pressure. In 1996, the British Columbia government sought to fund clinical trials of the drug in Vancouver, and pushed Ottawa to make RU-486 a priority. Similarly, the Canadian Medical Association, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada and various pro-abortion groups have publicly called for the release of RU-486 for testing.

Now, it appears Exelgyn is on a worldwide market expansion.

Beginning on July 6, the company registered with health authorities in eight European Union countries, as well as Switzerland and Russia. The company expects to begin shipping the drug in December. They expect RU-486 on the German market before the end of this year, on the Spanish market before the end of this year.

If Exelgyn applies to Health Canada in the fall, the drug could be approved as early as January if it is fast-tracked.

According to Statistics Canada, roughly 70,000 abortions are performed each year.

Source: Saturday, July 17, 1999, National Post.

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