[Ip-health] Dr. Margaret Chan's remarks at TRIPS at 20 symposium, 28 October 2015

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Wed Oct 28 04:28:47 PDT 2015

Opening remarks at a joint WHO/WIPO/WTO technical symposium on Public
health, intellectual property and TRIPS at 20

Geneva, Switzerland, 28 October 2015

Mr Roberto Azevedo, Dr Francis Gurry, distinguished experts, ladies and

I welcome this opportunity to look at experiences, and the data they have
generated, since WTO was established and the landmark TRIPS agreement
was reached 20 years ago.

Issues of intellectual property and trade are extremely important to WHO
Member States. I particularly welcome today’s panel that will be looking at
what the data have to say about the agreement and the use of its
especially to create benefits for public health.

As we all know, the negotiations that led to the agreement were highly
contentious, characterized by vast differences in the views of wealthy and
poorer countries. Some differences, and discontent, linger.

In the spirit of articles 7 and 8 of the agreement, the purpose of patents
is not
just to allow the patent owners to obtain economic returns from the grant
market exclusivity. Patents promote technological innovation, but they
also contribute to the dissemination of technology, to the mutual advantage
producers and users alike.

According to TRIPS, patents are granted in the public interest, including
through the promotion of social and economic welfare within countries.
leaves countries some much-needed flexibility to adjust patent rights to
maintain the desired balance with other important national priorities.

Today, most discontent is generated by the demands of wealthy countries for
intellectual property protections that go well beyond those negotiated in
TRIPS agreement. Poorer countries are concerned about the growing number
of TRIPS-plus obligations that are embedded in new bilateral and regional
trade agreements.

Innovations that result in better medicines, vaccines, and other medical
products represent great potential benefits for health. But to realize
benefits, we must ensure access for those in greatest need.

An affordable price is one of many determinants of access. As we know from
recent shortages of snake anti-venoms, prices have to be high enough to
keep companies in the market.

But as we have also seen in recent years, there are limits to what doctors,
patients, insurance companies, and politicians will consider an acceptable
price, even in very wealthy countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This year’s Nobel prize in medicine was awarded to scientists who developed
drugs to treat malaria and several neglected parasitic diseases. It is good
see the treatment of diseases that disproportionately affect the very poor
this kind of attention on the world stage.

This sends an important message. In matters of health, the poor deserve the
very best that medicine and science can offer.

Medicines have been making the headlines for two other reasons: strikingly
high prices, especially for new drugs for various cancer indications and
hepatitis C, and speculation about how the Transpacific Partnership
agreement might affect the market for generics and biosimilars and increase
the cost of medicines.

When new bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements are
negotiated, I ask WHO Member States to scrutinize their provisions very
closely for any potential impact on access to affordable medical products.

I ask Member States to scrutinize mechanisms for the settlement of investor-
state disputes that might interfere with a government’s sovereign right to
adopt legislation that protects citizens from harmful products, like

Prices for the latest generation of hepatitis C drugs, some of which cost
per pill, have raised some serious issues. No one questions the
represented by these medicines. They cure more than 90% of patients,
following a shorter duration of therapy than previous treatment regimens.

Nonetheless, the high costs have stimulated considerable debate around
issues of fairness. What is a fair profit for an R&D-based company? The
have forced some national health services to ration treatment. Which groups
come first?

For public health, the biggest question is this: how to extend the benefits
these medicines to the developing world, where the vast majority of
people live? Again, this is a question of fairness.

In this regard, Egypt’s experience in securing medicines to treat its high
hepatitis C burden illustrates a collaborative pathway that promotes social
economic welfare within countries.

Later today we will hear more about this experience and the role that
voluntary license agreements can play in improving access.

The Medicines Patent Pool was established following a recommendation of
the WHO Global strategy and plan of action for public health, innovation
intellectual property.

The Pool, which marks its fifth anniversary this year, has produced a
remarkable track record in using license agreements to improve access to
treatments in middle-income as well as low-income countries. I welcome the
intention of this Pool to extend its work to negotiate licensing agreements
expand access to tuberculosis and hepatitis C treatments.

The Pool, with its public health-driven business model, has pioneered ways
improve access by partnering with generic and originator companies alike.

This is a new system of IP management that engages industry and shows
great promise for the future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The overarching objective of the agenda for sustainable development is to
the world’s poor and vulnerable populations first, not last. The fair
interpretation and implementation of the TRIPS agreement can contribute to
that goal.

In a spirit of fairness, WHO supports an extension of the TRIPS transition
period for least developed countries, allowing them to continue to choose
whether they want to grant patents on pharmaceutical products or not.

Thank you.

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