medicine for the millions
August 30, 2003 1:47 PM   Subscribe

At the WTO: At last, the USA backs away from the policy of putting intellectual property above innocent lives. Good news for everyone who cares about mankind.
posted by Pretty_Generic (10 comments total)
Last discussion: US wrecks cheap drugs deal (12/02)

The article is a little vague on what the real breakthrough was that allowed this go forward; surely it's not just a "[pledge] not to abuse the system" from WTO states. Originally the US wanted to include only drugs for HIV, TB, malaria, and treatment for diseases unique to Africa; the linked article mentions asthma and diabetes drugs being a point of contention. Does this new deal still restrict drugs that may be profitable in first-world countries?
posted by eddydamascene at 2:48 PM on August 30, 2003

From the WTO press release, the point of contention in 2002 was clarifying how countries without the capability for producing pharmaceuticals could import generics, when WTO policy on compulsory licensing (where a government can license other companies to make a patented product without the consent of the patent holder) specifies that production must be predominantly for the domestic market. It was decided that this policy "should not prevent members from taking measures to protect public health," but there was disagreement on how to define the limits of flexibility on the terms of compulsory licensing (from the earlier BBC article, it seems that the US wanted to relax the restrictions on only a few specific drugs). This latest decision amounts to a waiver on the import restriction until a consensus can be reached on amending the compulsory licensing agreement. The breakthrough seems to be the inclusion of wording that lists 23 developed countries that will not use this system as importers, and several other countries that would use the system only in the event of a national emergency.

The Chairperson's statement and text of the agreement.
posted by eddydamascene at 4:34 PM on August 30, 2003

selfish observation: there goes my $8 copay. surely you don't think the pharmaceutical people are going to absorb the lost profit [read: reduced markup], do you? they'll extract every nickel from the hides of the western consumer.
posted by quonsar at 4:53 PM on August 30, 2003

Yeah, but payment for the costs of creating said intellectual property that saves human life is still going to have to come from somewhere.

Also, I wonder what effects lower mortality rates are going to have.
posted by rudyfink at 5:56 PM on August 30, 2003

Yeah, but payment for the costs of creating said intellectual property that saves human life is still going to have to come from somewhere.

The money will come from the same place that all pharmaceutical intellectual property development money comes from-- the U.S. taxpayer.

Far and away the vast majority of drugs in this country are developed with public financing paid to public universities to pay professors and graduate students' research programs; the drug companies pay for the trials and marketing, and then have the gall to lie and pretend that they paid for it all.

Also, I wonder what effects lower mortality rates are going to have.

That is probably the most coldly cynical comment I've heard in months.
posted by Cerebus at 6:37 PM on August 30, 2003

Thanks for the links, stonerose.

The main criticism from the Oxfam link seemed to be this:
Few countries, if any, will be prepared to help other countries [by suspending a patent and exporting generics], as it would provoke retaliation by the US which fiercely defends the commercial interests of the pharmaceutical corporations.

Brazil began producing generic versions of patented AIDS drugs without authorization years ago (1,2), since their own patent laws make special provisions for national emergencies. I don't see anything to prevent them from legally exporting these drugs to Africa now, since they have the infrastructure and have already demonstrated their willingness to confront the US and the pharmaceutical industry -- they will certainly have the support of the UN and WTO.
posted by eddydamascene at 6:44 PM on August 30, 2003

Just because something is legal doesn't mean it won't provoke a reaction by the US.

I suspect we'll see Bush's African AIDs plan be converted to allowing these drugs to be exported. Similar to the way MS donates software and then writes off the retail price.

Yes, I'm that cynical when it comes to government and profit.
posted by infowar at 8:59 PM on August 30, 2003

*stands awestruck at infowar's cynicism*
posted by quonsar at 10:19 PM on August 30, 2003

Is there really that much lost profit here? I was under the impression the third world nations couldn't afford to buy the drugs anyway...
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:08 AM on August 31, 2003

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