Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Patent Medicine

Steve's sent me a Green Party article about generics in India, reprinted here for all your benefits:



GREEN Party Euro-MP Caroline Lucas has launched a bid to defend access to affordable generic life-saving drugs from a drug company’s interpretation of world trade rules.

Dr Lucas has joined forces with four other MEPs from a range of parties across the EU to table a Written Declaration calling on drug company Novartis to drop a legal bid to block the production of cheap life-saving drugs in India.

The Written Declaration – the European Parliament’s equivalent of an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons – calls on Novartis to drop its appeal against India’s decision to reject its application for a patent on cancer drug Gleevac. The declaration will become the official policy of the parliament if it attracts the signature of half of its members.

Dr Lucas said: “India produces affordable medicines that are vital to many across the developing world: over half the medicines used for AIDS treatments in developing countries come from India.

If Novartis is successful, a source of affordable life-saving drugs will dry up – condemning millions of the world’s poorest to premature, preventable deaths.

“Novartis simply has no business standing in the way of people’s right to access the medicines they need for survival. International law must put people before profits – the lives of millions of people are at stake!’

At the centre of Novartis case is the World Trade Organisation’s agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property – or TRIPS – which required India to begin granting patents on drugs in 2005.

The TRIPS agreement, however, includes pro-public health safeguards that countries can implement, and India has merely included some of these in its patent law. The Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health, signed by governments in 2001, reinforced the right of countries to use these safeguards.

Dr Lucas said: “This case matters because it goes to the heart of whether drug patenting laws should prioritise the need of millions or the faceless multinational drug companies.

“If Novartis is successful it, and other drug giants, will make a lot more money by exercising monopoly control on medicines while millions will be left without any drugs at all.”

The Written Declaration, which is co-sponsored by Dr Lucas, Luisa Morgantini, Johann Van Hecke, Kader Arif and Pierre Schapira, has been tabled following a hearing in the European Parliament at which MEPs, campaigners from Medicins Sans Frontiers and Oxfam and representatives of Novartis discussed the implications of the case.

The five MEPs have also written to Novartis CEO Daniel Vasella demanding he drop the case.

In September 2005 the European Parliament adopted a resolution recognising India’s crucial role in supplying affordable medicines to patients in developing countries. It called on the EU ‘To support India in further implementing its intellectual property laws in a manner that will avoid barriers to the production, marketing and export of essential medicines’.

Dr Lucas added: “This Written Declaration isn’t just about potentially saving the lives of millions – it is about giving MEPs an opportunity to assert the pro-poor position they adopted in 2005.

“I acknowledge the importance of patent rights – but they must not go against the needs of millions of people who desperately need access to affordable drugs.”


Note to Editors:

The Written Declaration is available in full at:

The letter to Novartis CEO Daniel Vasella is available to download from

Both documents are also available on request from Ben on either number below.

Medecins Sans Frontiers have organised a petition calling on Novartis to drop the case. So far, it has attracted over 250,000 signatures. Read – or sign – it at:

It's at about this point that someone at the Times starts yelling that R&D has to be paid for, and that you have to give drugs companies an ability to discriminate in pricing so that they can recoup their R&D expenditure: can't have those parasitic generics companies sucking the blood out of Novartis' veins, even if it does help keep blood in the veins of those who wouldn't have access to the drugs otherwise. More to the point, they say, you won't get research directed at the important life-saving medicines if those are the ones you don't enforce patents on. Perverse as it sounds, then, the useful medicines are the ones that have to be most securely under control of Big Pharma, because they're the ones we really want to provide incentives for.

This argument sounds instinctively plausible, but rests on some pretty fishy assumptions about the ecology of drug production for the developing world. Big pharmaceuticals companies make most of their money selling drugs in the west - the developing world market is not going to make a huge dent in their revenues. More to the point, they know this, and so direct most of their research towards such useful products as viagra and Listerene. Basically, there's a huge market failure in terms of production of really useful drugs. As a result, you get the nautral response to a market failure: governments and charities step in to give funding to research, which then gets turned over to pharmaceuticals companies for development and production. Government then buys the drugs back off the companies.

Now this is a sweet little earner if you're a pharmaceuticals company - get paid to sell people research that they paid for - but less good for everyone else. Obviously pharma companies need to be involved in the production process (you can't just look at the research and knock up HIV medication in your back yard), but having them this closely integrated all through the production process seems basically counterproductive. For anyone interested in this sort of thing (you know, world health crises, the difference between life and death for millions...), there are a few really interesting proposals (loosely modeled on the idea of Open Source) being knocked around. Ironcially enough, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been looking quite hard at them, and are big sponsors. Or maybe that's not ironic - if anyone should know about the monopoly problems in the IP system...


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