WHO Director-General Margaret Chan questions TPP and drug patents

MArgaret ChanWHO; November 12; 2015. Geneva – In a speech at a meeting of global health policy think tanks WHO Director-General Margaret Chan addressed concerns about rising challenges in the global access to affordable pharmaceuticals. Talking about the sustainable development goals and their implications for global health, Chan commented on possible negative effects of TPP on the cost of medicines and asked to what extent the market exclusivity conferred by patent protection would actually stimulate innovation.

“Leaving no one behind, ending epidemics, and ending preventable deaths require a massive scaling up of interventions. Who will implement? Who will pay?

Intellectual property rights and the patent system continue to raise questions about fairness. I have been hearing some serious concerns that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the biggest trade agreement ever, may adversely affect the market for generics and biosimilars and increase the cost of medicines.

I would like to hear your views. If these agreements open trade yet close access to affordable medicines, we have to ask: Is this really progress at all, especially with the costs of care soaring everywhere?

And they are soaring. Genuine therapeutic breakthroughs increasingly come at an astronomical cost. Some of the new drugs for hepatitis C cost US$ 1000 a pill. In poorer countries, adding 1 new drug to the standard regimen for treating breast cancer greatly increases the cost.

High prices block access. Hepatitis C affects around 150 million people, mostly living in poor countries. Unless we get these prices down, many millions of people will be left behind.

Let me ask you. What is a fair profit for a pharmaceutical company? To what extent does the market exclusivity conferred by patent protection actually stimulate innovation? I have heard this widely-held assumption challenged by several economists.

I worry about interference, by powerful economic operators, in the new targets for alcohol, tobacco, and noncommunicable diseases, including many that are diet-related. Economic power readily translates into political power. ”

Find the full speech here.

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