Business Day

US cham­ber slams UN ‘at­tack’ on drug patents

- TAMAR KAHN Sci­ence and Health Writer Pharmaceutical Industry · Patents · Industries · Copyright · Law · United Nations · U.S. Chamber of Commerce · GlaxoSmithKline · Botswana · Ban Ki-moon · United Kingdom Department of Health · Festus Mogae

THE US Cham­ber of Com­merce has crit­i­cised a long-awaited UN re­port on im­prov­ing ac­cess to medicines, say­ing it is overly fo­cused on patents.

The re­port, re­leased on Wed­nes­day, was com­piled by a panel con­vened by UN sec­re­tary­gen­eral Ban Ki-moon to find a way to align trade rules and in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights with the needs of pa­tients, and thus make medicines more af­ford­able.

The panel rec­om­mends that gov­ern­ments take a tougher stance on award­ing patents to phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies and draw up a bind­ing treaty that sep­a­rates the cost of re­search and de­vel­op­ment from the fi­nal prices of drugs.

Coun­tries should award patents only for gen­uine in­no­va­tion. Gov­ern­ments should be al­lowed to over­ride patents with com­pul­sory li­cences to ac­cess a cheap generic sup­ply if there are good pub­lic health rea­sons to do so.

How­ever, the cham­ber said the panel had been as­sem­bled to drive a nar­row agenda and had ig­nored the in­put of key coun­tries.

“The panel ig­nored the real cul­prits: ex­ces­sive tar­iffs and taxes on im­ported medicines, and weak health­care in­fra­struc­tures that hin­der ef­fec­tive dis­tri­bu­tion. The UN’s own data show that in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty does not re­strict ac­cess to medicines, with 95% of es­sen­tial medicines no longer un­der patent,” said the cham­ber’s Global In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty Cen­ter ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent, Mark El­liot.

The panel in­cluded Depart­ment of Health di­rec­tor-gen­eral Pre­cious Mat­soso, Glax­oSmithK­line CEO An­drew Witty and Botswana’s former pres­i­dent, Fes­tus Mo­gae.

“Our re­port calls on gov­ern­ments to ne­go­ti­ate global agree­ments on the co-or­di­na­tion, fi­nanc­ing and de­vel­op­ment of health tech­nolo­gies to com­ple­ment ex­ist­ing in­no­va­tion mod­els in­clud­ing a bind­ing re­search and de­vel­op­ment con­ven­tion,” said Mat­soso.

The re­port was crit­i­cal of se­crecy sur­round­ing bi­lat­eral free trade ne­go­ti­a­tions, say­ing trans­parency was needed for ac­count­abil­ity.

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