Reflections on My Placement at AstraZeneca Canada (IP Intensive Reflection)

As part of my involvement in the Intellectual Property and Technology Law Intensive Program (“IP Intensive”), I was fortunate to be granted a 9-week placement at the Legal Affairs department of AstraZeneca Canada (“AZC”). As someone with a background in the biosciences and a keen interest in practicing law in this space, the opportunity to engage with the legal matters of a pharmaceutical company represents the highlight of my law school experience.

No beats skipped here

As one could imagine, the pharmaceutical industry is in full swing in the midst of a global pandemic. Despite the virtual/remote nature of this year’s IP Intensive and placement, my supervisor ensured that I was sufficiently immersed in AZC’s operations, through regular Zoom “touch-base” meetings and by connecting me with employees from various departments of the organization. From meeting individuals from the compliance, marketing, and digital transformation departments (to name a few), I was given a holistic understanding of the “big picture” operations of a pharmaceutical company.

In fact, interning at AZC during a global pandemic represented a unique opportunity. I learned about, and contributed to the resolution of, issues related to vaccine development and marketing— including vaccine contract review and constitutional analyses on the division of powers as relates to vaccine dissemination strategies. I also had the opportunity to review and comment on official submissions to Parliament regarding the passage of their COVID-19-related interim orders, in particular the order creating alternate routes for expeditious drug authorization to combat shortages.

A newfound interest in privacy law

Prior to my involvement with the IP Intensive, I considered myself someone solely interested in traditional IP law (i.e., copyrights, trademarks, and patents). I am grateful for the “Technology” aspect of the IP Intensive, for it thrust us into discussions on timely issues such as privacy and data rights. In fact, I would say that the legal field engaged with most during my placement was privacy law (even more so than IP). While clear to see with hindsight, I had no idea the extent to which privacy considerations impacted pharma’s operations. I worked on tasks such as: appraising cookie notices for PIPEDA compliance; reviewing corporate privacy training modules; and providing feedback on federal and provincial privacy legislation amendment proposals (this last one is timely, given Parliament’s recent introduction of the Digital Charter Implementation Act, 2020, which will likely lead Canada to a more GDPR-esque privacy regime).

Patented medicine pricing issues

One constant cause for concern during my placement at AZC relates to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board’s (“PMPRB”) 2020 Guidelines. The price regulation of patented drugs affects virtually the entirety of AZC’s product line, and therefore represents a source of uncertainty with respect to AZC’s—and other patented drug manufacturers’—operations. I assisted my supervisor in researching PMPRB court cases as well as commenting on submissions from Innovative Medicines Canada (“IMC”) asking for clarity on the Guidelines’ proposed amendments.

The recent Federal Court ruling on the validity of the PMPRB’s recent amendments (i.e., that they fall within the broad regulation-making authority of the Governor-in-Council under the Patent Act as part of the valid legislative goal of “abusing patent monopolies”) are bound to be challenged by IMC, and I am glad to know that I may have played a small part in the process of clarifying this important area of law.

Miscellaneous adventures

In addition to the privacy- and IP-related legal issues I mentioned, I was also involved in a wide spectrum of legal and policy issues touching on a variety of AZC’s operations. For example, I took part in the following miscellaneous, yet significant, operational tasks: providing insights into the Food and Drug Regulations’ amendment to include nurse practitioners in the list of “practitioners” to whom drug samples may be distributed; reviewing consent notices for compliance with Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation; and clarifying health and safety committee requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Conclusion

My placement at AZC was undoubtedly the highlight of my law school career, providing me with an invaluable adjunct to the traditional course-based law school curriculum. I am grateful for the work done by the Legal Affairs department to make my virtual placement as immersive and rewarding as if it were done in person. I look forward to applying the knowledge and skills gained in my future career endeavours, as well as to keeping in touch with the awesome individuals I had the pleasure of connecting with during my placement.

Written by Daniel Joseph, JD Candidate 2021, enrolled in Professors D’Agostino’s and Vaver’s 2020/2021 IP Law & Technology Intensive Program at Osgoode Hall Law School. As part of the program requirements, students were asked to write a reflective blog on their internship experience.

 

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