A new survey supports the argument of public health advocates that pharmaceuticals resulting from government-funded research in the United States should be no more expensive than in other similar countries, and that patent rights should be used to make it so.
According to the survey, most people asked think the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) should use its patent rights over pharmaceuticals from research it funded to ensure that residents do not pay more than other high-income countries for the drugs.
The survey questions were developed and paid for by nongovernmental organisation Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), but the survey was independently conducted by the SurveyMonkey service, which carried out the random selection of interviewees, data collection and analysis, according to KEI.
In the survey of 170 randomly selected US residents, 7 out of 8 took this view that NIH-funded research should not be priced higher than in similar countries. The survey results and information are available here.
The survey was conducted from 26-28 August, and consisted of two questions regarding NIH-funded drug development. According to the KEI website, the questions were:
Respondents were provided with data regarding the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) overall budget as well as the amount budgeted for HIV/AIDS research. The background information also gave the percentages of US patents that benefited from US taxpayer funding of research that contained the terms ‘cancer’ and ‘HIV’ in the patent claims (19% and 23% respectively) from 2010 to 2011. The first question was:
Were you previously aware of the extent of US government funding of medical research, including research that leads to patented inventions?
Results: Yes, 38 percent. No, 62 percent.
On the topic of US drug prices as compared to other high-income countries, respondents were provided with data regarding a policy the NIH has been asked to adopt. The policy in question asks the NIH to grant new non-discriminatory licenses to generic drug manufacturers to use the patents on NIH funded drug discoveries when drugs are more expensive in the US than in other high-income countries. It then presents the perspective of drug companies, who argue that patent owners/drug companies should be free to charge US residents higher prices, regardless of the financing of the drug’s research and development. The question asked was as follows:
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), a government agency, has rights to the patents for dozens of drugs that were developed with federal funds. Should the NIH require patent holders to charge no more to residents of the United States than the prices in Canada, Europe and other high-income countries, for the same drug?
Results: Yes, 71.7 percent. No, 9.6 percent. Not sure 18.7 percent.”
The KEI website said that KEI and others filed a petition in October 2012 requesting NIH “grant Bayh-Dole Act march-in rights for the patents held by Abbott Laboratories relevant to the manufacture and sale of ritonavir, a federally funded invention that is much more expensive in the United States than in Canada, Europe or other high-income countries. The NIH has yet to grant a hearing on the petition.”
The petition also asked for a more general rule that would provide a march-in remedy for any drug when US prices were higher than prices for the same product in other high income countries. The new survey supports that argument.
“If seven out of eight members of the public think the NIH should protect them from paying more than everyone else, maybe government officials and elected members of Congress should do something,” KEI President James Love said. “The NIH has yet to grant a hearing on this issue. The petition was filed October 2012. It’s almost a year, and the NIH is stalling.”