[Ip-health] MSF urges South Africa to stand strong in defiance of aggressive pharma moves to delay change (Pharmagate)

Joanna Keenan-Siciliano joanna.l.keenan at gmail.com
Mon Jan 20 08:20:36 PST 2014

*MSF urges South Africa to stand strong, move ahead on patent law reforms,
in defiance of aggressive pharma opposition to delay change and keep drug
prices high *


*Johannesburg/Geneva, 20 January 2014* – Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is
encouraged that the South African government is standing strong against a
broad multinational pharmaceutical industry effort to undermine and delay
the country’s effort to reform its patent laws and improve access to
affordable medicines.

Documents leaked on 17 January (see more
reveal plans for a covert, large-scale public relations campaign with a
US$600,000 (R6 million) budget, financed largely by the US-based
pharmaceutical lobby. The goal of the proposed strategy is to disrupt the
country’s long-awaited plans to bring into force public health safeguards
absent in its patent system. These changes would, among other initiatives,
ensure that companies cannot unfairly extend monopolies by simply changing
a formulation or combining two medicines into a single tablet, and
registering a new patent for this obvious change. This practice of patent
‘evergreening’ unfairly blocks generic competition and keeps drug prices
high, limiting patients’ ability to access the life-saving medicines they

Countries such as Brazil and India have struck the right balance between
promoting public health and access to medicines, while also protecting
companies’ intellectual property rights by granting patents for innovative
developments. South Africa’s new IP policy would modernise South Africa’s
laws in line with other middle income countries and international norms,
and set a positive example for other countries in Africa who are also
involved in patent law reform processes, but also want to ensure patients
have the medicines they need.

“Thanks to leaked documents, we know that South Africa represents ‘ground
zero’ for the looming legal battles on intellectual property between
pharmaceutical companies and middle-income countries seeking access to
affordable medicines for their people,” said Dr. Manica Balasegaram,
executive director of MSF’s Access Campaign. “Big pharma doesn’t want South
Africa to reform its patent system and laws because they know other
countries will follow suit.”

Because South Africa blindly hands out patents without examining their
quality—granting more patents on medicines than even the U.S. and
Europe—the country often cannot access generics available in other
countries. Multiple patents on medicines in South Africa lead to some of
the longest delays in the developing world for the introduction of generic
competition. In some cases, such as for cancer medicine imatinib, South
Africa pays up to 35 times more for originator products than other
countries pay where robust generic competition is available.

The pharmaceutical companies’ tactics to delay reform are a bid to
evergreen as many drugs as possible before changes to the law go into
effect. This will allow them to continue capitalizing on the market
monopolies and increased profits evergreening of patents offers.

“The effort by big pharma to undermine national patent law reform comes as
little surprise, since these are the same companies that tried to deny
South Africans affordable antiretroviral medicines over a decade ago in the
face of an exploding HIV epidemic,” said Andrew Mews, Head of Mission for
MSF operations in South Africa. “History is repeating itself, with
medicines to treat drug-resistant tuberculosis, cancer, and other diseases
patented and priced out of reach for people and the health department.”

“We have seen outstanding results since pressuring companies into allowing
generic ARVs into South Africa—lower prices improve access and have not
harmed research and development into new HIV treatments. The government is
now well-positioned to speed up necessary changes by passing the new
policy, and improving implementation of existing patent rules as soon as

*Background: *

*In September 2013, *South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)
proposed reform of the intellectual property system and published the *Draft
National Policy on Intellectual Property (DNPIP) *for public comment. (
http://www.thedti.gov.za/invitations/36816_4-9_TradeIndustry.pdf )

Chapter 1 of the DNPIP recommends the use of a substantive search and
examination system to determine whether applications, especially in the
pharmaceutical sector, are valid or not.

Chapter 2 of the DNPIP notes that South African legislation should enact
stricter criteria for granting a patent. Chapter 1 of the DNPIP notes that
South Africa should provide for a pre- and post-grant opposition mechanism
within national law to enable third parties to oppose weaker patents that
fail to meet patentability standards.

Chapters 1 and 2 of the DNPIP acknowledges the need to modify existing
legislation and regulations to address the difficulties in using both
compulsory licensing and parallel importation measures, as neither
provision has been successfully used to date on a pharmaceutical product.

Since November 2011, MSF, along with local partners, Treatment Action
Campaign (TAC) and SECTION27 (S27), have run the “Fix the Patent Laws” (
www.fixthepatentlaws.org) campaign in support of the DTI’s intention to
reform the intellectual property system.  A joint submission from
MSF/TAC/S27 commenting on the DNPIP can be accessed here:

Joanna Keenan
Press Officer
Médecins Sans Frontières - Access Campaign
P: +41 22 849 87 45
M: +41 79 203 13 02
E: joanna.keenan[at]geneva.msf.org
T: twitter.com/joanna_keenan


Please sign MSF’s DR-TB Manifesto today: www.msfaccess.org/TBManifesto

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