[Ip-health] Wall Street Journal: Pharma Trade Group Head Causes a Stir With a Remark About Patents

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Nov 13 01:57:01 PST 2014



11:42 am ET
Trade Group Head Causes a Stir With a Remark About Patents

   - By

File this under ‘Nothing like getting off to a good start.’

Last week, Stefan Oschmann, the chief executive officer at Merck KGgA, was
elected president of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical
Manufacturers Association, a trade group for drug makers that is based in
Europe. This is a high-profile position, of course, that offers a platform
for conveying industry views about a variety of pressing issues.

And so, on the same day that his appointment
announced, Oschmann appeared at a health care conference last week in New
York, where he said something that upset patient advocacy groups. What was
that? “There is zero evidence that intellectual property is a hindrance to
access to medicines,” Oschmann remarked, according to a Tweet
the Eli Lilly
<http://online.wsj.com/public/quotes/main.html?type=djn&symbol=LLY> Twitter

Intellectual property issues, you may recall, are a flashpoint in the
debate over access to medicines. The pharmaceutical industry argues that
innovation will wither if countries do not enforce explicit patent rights,
and has pushed for greater protection in various trade talks. The most
recent example is the Trans Pacific Partnership
that are currently under way between 12 countries in the Asia and Pacific
regions, including the U.S.

Patient advocacy groups counter that the industry argument for stronger
intellectual property protection amount to a smokescreen for creating
monopolies, which can lead to higher prices and make it difficult for
people in low and middle-income countries to afford needed drugs.

For this reason, several groups, including Universities Allied for
Essential Medicines, STOPAIDS and the American Medical Student Association,
lashed out after reading Oschmann’s remark.

A spokesman for the IFPMA maintained the statement should be read in the
context of Oschmann’s remarks and provided a transcript
<http://freepdfhosting.com/0fb3df964c.pdf>, which you can read here. A
Merck KGgA spokeswoman declined to comment and referred us to the trade
group, since Oschmann was speaking in his capacity as its new president.
Both the drug maker and the trade group declined to respond directly to the
criticism, although IFPMA did send a statement
<http://freepdfhosting.com/873b821099.pdf>about the overall issue of access
to medicines.

His statement appeared in this portion of the speech: “Innovation and
intellectual property rights are at the core of our industry. We must
continue to advocate for the recognition of the value of innovation and
intellectual property as an enabler of sustainable access. There is zero
evidence that intellectual property is a hindrance to access to medicines.
We feel that part of the intellectual property debate, at the global health
level, is more influenced by industrial policy considerations rather than
patient access.”

Advocacy groups, nonetheless, maintain Oschmann is incorrect. “Anyone who
says there is zero evidence that patents hinder access to medicines is
either really stupid, or acting as if everyone else is really stupid,” says
Jamie Love of Knowledge Ecology International, a non-profit that tracks
patent and access issues, in a statement. “IFPMA member companies have been
trying to price cancer drugs at more than $100 per day in India, a country
with average incomes just over $4 per day.

“In what universe does this not hinder access?” he continues. “It is
unfortunate that an important trade association like IFPMA has elected
someone who has zero appreciation for the crisis in access to new
medicines, and plays the clown, when we need real leadership and
engagement, to reform a broken business model.”

The transcript indicates that Oschmann stated a commitment to improving
access to medicines, and maintained that “every player in global health
needs to break away from a siloed and vertical market… I think it is
equally naive to believe that the people involved in the pharmaceutical
industry are only driven by profit as it is to believe that people in the
public institutions are only driven by the common good.”

Access, he argued, “goes beyond the mere supply and availability of drugs
and medicines. Access is not only about awareness, prevention or treatment,
but it is also about the physical accessibility, financial affordability
and acceptability of health services by populations.”

At the same time, he acknowledged the challenges by noting that more than
96% of medicines on the WHO Essential Drugs List are off-patent and “fewer
than 45% percent are accessible by patients who need them most, in markets
where resources are most constrained.” And Oschmann also said that “I want
to reiterate the importance of strong intellectual property rights
frameworks as an enabler for innovation and access… It is clear that IP
[intellectual property] is not the problem, but part of the solution.”

The patient advocates are unmoved, however. Merith Basey, the executive
director at the Universities Allied for Essential Medicines in North
America, wants Oschmann to retract his statement that there is “zero
evidence that intellectual property is a hindrance to access to medicines.”
We asked the IFPMA spokesman if a retraction is forthcoming and will
provide any reply.

An IFPMA spokesman sent us a statement
<http://freepdfhosting.com/0c7a97f1ce.pdf> saying that “access to medicines
is complex and multi-faceted and it goes beyond the mere supply and
availability of medicines. A number of variables play a major role in
determining the extent of patient access… in a safe and timely manner.
These include the efficiency of the distribution system, infrastructure,
effectiveness and reliability of health care systems, patient access to
insurance, as well as government taxation and procurement policies.”

Meanwhile, the Lilly tweet containing Oschmann’s remark, which you can see
was removed shortly after his appearance last week. A spokeswoman for Eli
Lilly says this was done “because it could be taken out of context. We
believe that intellectual property continues to be a key incentive for
innovation and has supported the development of the vast majority of
medicines we benefit from today.”

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