US chamber slams UN ‘attack’ on drug patents
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.