Brazil has a relevant, although relatively unknown, special medicines programme that distributes high-cost products, such as drugs needed for cancer treatments. In 2009, the purchase of these medicines became the responsibility of the Brazilian Federal Government. Until then, there were no clear norms regarding the responsibilities, in terms of the management/financing of these medicines, of the Brazilian Federal Government and of the states themselves. This qualitative study analyses the policy process needed to transfer this programme to the central government. The study examines the reports of the Tripartite Commission between 2000 and 2012, and in-depth interviews with eleven key informants were conducted. The study demonstrates that throughout the last decade, institutional changes have been made in regard to the federal management of these programmes (such as recentralisation of the purchasing of medicines). It concludes that these changes can be explained because of the efficiency of the coordinating mechanisms of the Federal Government. These findings reinforce the idea that the Ministry of Health is the main driver of public health policies, and it has opted for the recentralisation of activities as a result of the development project implicit in the agenda of the Industrial and Economic Heal.