[Ip-health] FT: Industry gives pledge on affordable drugs

Thirukumaran Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Mon Sep 19 15:22:43 PDT 2011

For full piece, pleas 


September 19, 2011 7:48 pm

Industry gives pledge on affordable drugs

By Andrew Jack in London

The pharmaceutical industry has pledged to help tackle poor drug distribution and other factors limiting affordable access to medicines for chronic diseases in the developing world, while attempting to steer discussion away from high prices imposed by patents.

David Brennan, chief executive of AstraZeneca and chairman of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (Ifpma), the trade body, told the Financial Times that patents were not a significant issue in tackling access to treatment for the diseases.

“Most of the World Health Organisation’s essential drugs are generic, but they are still not being made available,” he said. “The issue is around the infrastructure to deliver healthcare and to make medicines available.”

His comments came as international politicians adopted a declaration on non-communicable diseases at the UN in New York on Monday, only the second-ever debate held by the organisation focused on health.

The first such debate was in 2001 on HIV, and it helped trigger a sharp rise in treatment with antiretroviral therapies for patients in low income countries, accompanied by a fierce discussion on whether intellectual property rights on patented medicines were a barrier to access.

By contrast, Mr Brennan cited a new industry-funded study arguing that most of the drugs required to treat or prevent the leading non-communicable diseases were already low-cost generic medicines. It listed instead import tariffs, taxes, intermediaries’ profits, regulatory obstacles and weak health systems as barriers to access.


However, Ala Alwan, the assistant director-general in charge of non-communicable diseases at the World Health Organisation, said: “We need lower mark ups, better procurement, rational use of medicines and generic substitution. But cost remains very important for some drugs. Those for cancer are still very expensive.”

Daniel Berman from Médecins Sans Frontières’ essential medicines campaign said there were still patented high-priced medicines that served as a barrier to treatment in low-income countries, notably for cancer and mental health. He said: “Ifpma’s stance is the same as 10 years ago. We’d prefer they focused on issues they can improve and control.”

His organisation is supporting legal efforts to challenge Novartis in India, which is attempting to maintain patents on its high-priced leukaemia drug Glivec. It points to a policy of donations to patients who cannot afford to pay. Mr Berman said “large-scale donations are not practicable or sustainable”.

Individuals close to the negotiations around the latest UN text said the drug industry, with US government backing, fought to remove from the draft text references to the Doha trade declaration that stressed the primacy of public health, paving the way for the WHO to add patented medicines on to its essential drugs list, recommended for patients in low-income countries regardless of cost.



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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