The federal government will spend more to monitor the safety of drugs already on the market, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced Wednesday.

"The Drug Safety and Effectiveness Network complements Canada's rigorous pre-testing of new drugs by studying how Canadians respond over time to already-approved drugs," Aglukkaq said at a Toronto hospital during her first major news conference as health minister.

"The results will help in decision-making and enhance overall consumer safety."

A further $31 million over the next five years will fund research in trials on drugs already approved for sale, bringing the total federal investment for the program to $32 million over the first five years and $10 million per year afterwards.

In recent years, researchers have discovered that approved drugs, such as the anti-inflammatory Vioxx and the diabetes medication Avandia, have been linked to serious health problems.

The network will allow for more national research on the safety and effectiveness of drugs. It will:

  • Link doctors and researchers through a new virtual network.
  • Help to co-ordinate a national research agenda.
  • Fund independent research on the safety and effectiveness of drugs in the marketplace.
  • Assess the risks and benefits of drug products on the market.

For example, if a patient comes to a doctor complaining of a major side-effect linked to a drug, then the doctor could share research on the case with others to identify any trends.

If a major problem is flagged, the network will be able to research it and recommend to Health Canada that the drug be pulled from the market, even just temporarily to identify any problem.

On the other hand, if a patient notices a drug seems to help for another condition, doctors would compile and share that information with each other and researchers to determine if there's a trend.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research will co-ordinate the network.

CIHR president Dr. Alain Beaudet said the network will allow researchers to study the effects of medications in the real world. It could allow researchers to spot adverse events that weren't picked up during pre-marketing clinical trials, which test drugs on fewer people.

With files from the Canadian Press