[A2k] MSF response to WSJ editorial 'Free Trade, Drugs and India'
thiru at keionline.org
Fri Jan 14 08:58:03 PST 2011
Doctors Without Borders is not seeking to derail the European Union-
India trade deal, but to protect access to affordable medicines needed
across the developing world
India plays a vital role as a supplier of affordable quality
medicines. Its Patents Act provides protection for medical innovation,
fully respecting international trade rules. New AIDS drugs such as
raltegravir are patented there. However, India’s law doesn’t provide
patent protection for medicines with insufficient therapeutic benefit
over existing ones, a provision Western pharmaceutical companies have
As patents on blockbusters expire, drug companies are anxious to stamp
out remaining pockets of generic competition, and ensure that
‘evergreening’—extending a patent by making insignificant changes to a
drug—is made possible. The European trade agenda, particularly its
attempt to impose data exclusivity and provisions that far exceed
international trade laws, is just the latest gambit in this game.
The predominant system for financing and incentivizing medical
innovation relies on patent-protected monopolies. And it’s a broken
system, yielding fewer therapeutically significant new medicines and
pricing drugs out of reach of the poor. Pursuing policies that block
access to affordable medicines and reward innovations that provide
little or no therapeutic benefit is not the way to fund medical
Europe could contribute more by fostering alternative R&D mechanisms,
such as prize funds, that don’t rely on high drug prices to reward
Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer
Executive Director, Doctors Without Borders, Campaign for Access to
• REVIEW & OUTLOOK EUROPE
• DECEMBER 31, 2010
Free Trade, Drugs and India
Attacking the means of funding pharmaceutical breakthroughs is a
strange way to pursue global health.
This month protesters clad in white coats and "HIV Positive"
breadboards gathered outside the EU-India summit in Brussels under a
banner that read "Europe! Hands Off Our Medicine." Doctors Without
Borders, which leads the "Hands Off" campaign, held similar
demonstrations in Delhi, Nairobi, Bangkok and Jakarta.
Their aim is to derail a free-trade deal that India and Europe have
been negotiating for four years. Brussels says it hopes to have an
agreement by early next year, and it predicts the pact would boost
European investment in India by 27%. The talks have been held up by
many of the familiar bugaboos: European agricultural tariffs, Indian
levies on alcohol, and a provision that would make it easier for
Indians to get temporary work visas in the EU.
But the issue that most excites activists and dominates Indian
headlines is that of intellectual property rights—specifically those
of pharmaceutical companies. Today India is the world's leading
producer of cheap generic drugs, supplying 80% of the medicines that
groups like Doctors Without Borders administer in poor countries. The
U.N. estimates that 93% of the anti-retrovirals going to Third World
HIV patients were made in India.
These drugs may be cheap to copy, but they cost billions to develop,
and Indian law currently gives regulators broad scope to block drug-
patent applications and allow knock-off production. Delhi has denied
Indian patents for Novartis's cancer drug Glivec and Gilead's HIV
treatment Tenofovir, among others.
Europe is now gunning for a trade agreement that would ensure a period
of exclusive access to pharmaceutical companies' research data. World
Trade Organization rules allow India to grant its own drug makers
licenses to replicate certain products even without the inventor's
consent. But unless copycats can use pharmaceutical companies'
original data to show that the drug is safe and effective, they'd have
to conduct their own trials.
So the question is how long data exclusivity would be protected in
India under a free-trade deal. EU law protects most pharmaceutical
patents for 20 years and secures companies' data exclusivity for 11
years. The EU doesn't expect India to impose European-style
intellectual property rights overnight, but it has asked India to meet
it part of the way.
This has led to protests among Western activists that Europe wants to
shut down India's generic-drug industry and drive up the price of HIV
drugs in Africa. The U.N.'s special rapporteur on the Right to Health,
Anand Grover, decided to chime in earlier this month, slamming the
free-trade deal and warning that Europe's "demands are only meant to
further line the pockets of multinational companies."
Attacking drug makers' means of funding future breakthroughs seems a
strange way to pursue global health. And while Indian officials might
think they're doing the home team a favor by keeping it easy to rip
off expensive medicines, they're doing nothing to incentivize domestic
creators. The next blockbuster drug could well come from an Indian
lab. Delhi could make that prospect all the more likely by defending
the fruits of everyone's labors on the subcontinent.
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
thiru at keionline.org
Tel: +41 22 791 6727
Mobile: +41 76 508 0997
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