[Ip-health] Professor Schellekens: patents on medicines are immoral

Ante ante at ffii.org
Mon Aug 13 06:45:15 PDT 2012

Professor Schellekens: patents on medicines are immoral
with links

August 13, 2012
By Ante

The pharmaceutical industry abuses patents to ask exorbitant prices, says Dr. 
Huub Schellekens, professor at Utrecht University, in an interview with Dutch 
newspaper De Volkskrant (11 August, paywall).

In the Netherlands, one of the richest countries in the world, the "College 
van Zorgverzekeringen", the government organization responsible for 
reimbursing medical costs, started a discussion on whether it is still 
possible to reimburse the high costs for treating the Fabry and Pompe 
diseases. In this discussion, senator and ethicist Heleen Dupuis said the high 
costs of care disrupt the Dutch society. She supported stopping the 
reimbursement of the costs for these diseases.

According to professor Schellekens the production of the drug to treat the 
Pompe disease costs about four thousand euro per patient per year. The 
pharmaceutical industry asks half a million per patient per year. This is not 
justified according to Schellekens, since medical tests are cheaper with 
orphan diseases, as the test group is smaller. In the interview, Schellekens 
gave more examples of drug prices being 100 times more expensive than 
production costs.

De Volkskrant asked the professor how much we spend in the Netherlands per 
year on medicines. He estimates it is in the order of 10, 12 billion euro. "It 
is the fastest growing entry in the healthcare sector. One always hears that 
aging causes the rising costs of health care, but that is a terrible 
misunderstanding. (...) The companies spend a major part of that money to 
protect their exclusive position. If you capitalize that, I estimate that we, 
the consumers, pay 5 or 6 billion too much."

Schellekens argues that patent protection for medicines can no longer be 
justified. "They are immoral because they make medicines unreachable for most 
of the world’s population."

He advocates to stop granting patents on medicines, the prices will drop as 
much as 80 percent. According to his estimate "the world will at least save 
400 billion euro, more than enough to fund fundamental and sustainability-
oriented research into new medicines."

Schellekens’ ideas resemble the ideas put forward by Nobel laureate in 
Economic Sciences Joseph E Stiglitz, Senator Bernie Sanders (USA) and 
organizations such as TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue, Health Action 
International (Europe), Knowledge Ecology International and Oxfam.

Schellekens would like to ask the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg 
to invalidate the Pompe disease drug patent as the price of half a million per 
patient per year is immoral.

As we for instance see with ACTA, there is an increasing interest in having 
intellectual property rights tested against fundamental rights. IP rights are 
becoming increasingly intrusive.

Although the savings may turn out to be enormous, and it could ascertain 
access to medicines, Schellekens observes politicians in the Netherlands are 
not interested in the role patents play. The pharmaceutical industry has an 
incredibly strong lobby.

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