Access by poor to key drugs at stake in TPP talks

December 9, 2013 by Martin Abbugao

Access to affordable drugs for the world's poor will be hampered if a US plan to impose stricter pharmaceutical patents is adopted at talks on a Pacific trade pact, activists say.

Trade ministers from 12 countries entered a third day of talks in Singapore on Monday in an attempt to meet a US deadline to reach a deal on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) before the year ends.

The US pharmaceutical industry is pushing for 12 years of "data protection" for a new class of drugs called "biologics", which are developed from living tissues rather than chemicals and are being used to treat illnesses such as cancer and diabetes.

Lobbyists for the industry say the measure, already part of US law, would encourage further research and development by enabling drug firms to recover their investments.

Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam—which together make up 40 percent of the global economy—are currently part of the talks, but the TPP is open to other countries joining in the future.

"The vital lifeline of affordable generic medicines that millions depend on could be severely constrained by the terms of the trade pact," global humanitarian group Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, said on the sidelines of the meeting in Singapore.

President Barack Obama has portrayed the TPP as the economic centrepiece of renewed US engagement in Asia, which also involves a shift in its defence posture in favour of the Pacific theatre.

MSF said the data protection period will prevent drug regulatory agencies in TPP signatory countries from referencing data needed to approve lower-cost generic versions of a protected drug, delaying competition that would lead to cheaper prices.

The World Health Organization says about one-third of the developing world's people do not have access to essential medicines on a regular basis.

Generic drugs manufactured by local firms in developing countries have become popular alternatives to branded pharmaceuticals from the West.

International charity Oxfam said developing countries negotiating the TPP, or joining it in the future, will be the most affected.

"The US is putting the interests of the drug industry above those of public health," said Rohit Malpani, Oxfam policy advisor on access to medicines in a statement this year.

He urged the US to "reconsider this approach because it undermines the sustainability of public health-care programmes and discredits trade itself as a tool for poverty reduction".

Global advocacy group Avaaz said a poll it commissioned showed 62 percent of Americans, 63 percent of Australians, 70 percent of New Zealanders, and of 75 percent Chileans opposed limiting access to generic medicines through the patent proposal.

But the lobby group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) said it was necessary for companies to recover investments and conduct further research into new cures.

It also said should start from the time the new medicine is approved by regulators for release into the market.

Jay Taylor, PhRMA vice president of international affairs, told AFP it takes an average of 10-13 years and more than $1.0 billion in investments to develop a new cure, but not all research projects are successful and some could lead to financial losses.

"We do not view intellectual property (IP) as a barrier to access," Taylor said. "IP is a necessary catalyst for the development of new medicines."

The office of the US Trade Representative, which is leading the TPP talks, said this month it has offered a "differential approach" that will allow to defer full implementation of certain provisions of the pact.

"We believe the best approach to pharmaceutical (intellectual property rights) issues in the TPP would be one that offers countries flexibility based on their individual circumstances," it said on its website.

The USTR also defended its push to protect biologic medicines, saying that "those drugs require enormous amounts of time and money to develop".

"Before entrepreneurs in the United States and across the world are willing to make the investment in new therapies, they want to know that they will have rights to their own research for a certain period of time in order to see a return on their investments," it said.

Explore further: Big Pharma battle threatens to delay Pacific trade pact

Related Stories

Big Pharma battle threatens to delay Pacific trade pact

March 10, 2013
A US-led Pacific free trade pact faces further delays as a row between Big Pharma and activists supporting access to generic drugs erupts ahead of an October deadline, officials say.

Activists warn trade pact will keep out generics (Update)

July 3, 2013
A free trade pact being negotiated by the U.S. and 11 Asia-Pacific nations will impose aggressive intellectual property rules that could restrict access to affordable medicines in developing nations, health activists warned ...

S.Africa tackles drugs patent reform

September 9, 2013
South Africa's government has published a draft intellectual property policy with potential far-reaching effects for pharmaceutical patents, which rights groups hailed Monday as a move towards lower medicine costs.

US group seeks to block Gilead drug patent in India

November 24, 2013
A US-based patient rights group said Saturday it has sought to block a bid by California-based Gilead Sciences to obtain an Indian patent for a potentially blockbuster drug to treat hepatitis C.

Roche drops India patent for breast-cancer drug (Update)

August 17, 2013
Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche says it is abandoning a patent for top-selling breast cancer drug Herceptin in the Indian market, paving the way for local drugmakers to make a cheaper generic version.

Recommended for you

Study suggests ending opioid epidemic will take years

July 20, 2017
The question of how to stem the nation's opioid epidemic now has a major detailed response. A new study chaired by University of Virginia School of Law Professor Richard Bonnie provides extensive recommendations for curbing ...

Team-based model reduces prescription opioid use among patients with chronic pain by 40 percent

July 17, 2017
A new, team-based, primary care model is decreasing prescription opioid use among patients with chronic pain by 40 percent, according to a new study out of Boston Medical Center's Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine, which ...

Private clinics' peddling of unproven stem cell treatments is unsafe and unethical

July 7, 2017
Stem cell science is an area of medical research that continues to offer great promise. But as this week's paper in Science Translational Medicine highlights, a growing number of clinics around the globe, including in Australia, ...

Popular heartburn drugs linked to higher death risk

July 4, 2017
Popular heartburn drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) have been linked to a variety of health problems, including serious kidney damage, bone fractures and dementia. Now, a new study from Washington University School ...

Most reproductive-age women using opioids also use another substance

June 30, 2017
The majority of reproductive-age and pregnant women who use opioids for non-medical purposes also use at least one other substance, ranging from nicotine or alcohol to cocaine, according to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate ...

At-risk chronic pain patients taper opioids successfully with psychological tools

June 28, 2017
Psychological support and new coping skills are helping patients at high risk of developing chronic pain and long-term, high-dose opioid use taper their opioids and rebuild their lives with activities that are meaningful ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.