[Ip-health] MSF response to WSJ editorial 'Free Trade, Drugs and India'

Thiru Balasubramaniam 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  
repeatedly challenged.

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  
Essential Medicines



	• 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.


Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
thiru at keionline.org

Tel: +41 22 791 6727
Mobile: +41 76 508 0997

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