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Pharma rhetoric at IAC must be matched by action

May 10, 2010

Legal manoeuvring by multinational companies restricting access to essential medicines contradicts their encouraging words at IAC, says the international agency Oxfam. If companies are serious about working with UNITAID on ‘patent pools, as several expressed this week, they must end their dirty tricks to block countries’ efforts to reduce costs through generic competition.

‘Big pharma has gone all out to destroy India’s role as the pharmacy of the developing world, said Rohit Malpani of Oxfam International. ‘The country supplies eighty percent of the world’s affordable, generic antiretroviral medicines. Since India was obliged to introduce twenty years of patent protection in 2005, brand-name companies have rushed to patent key medicines there without any thought to the impact on access.

In early 2008, the first patent on an HIV and AIDS medicine was granted in India to Pfizer for a new antiretroviral that enables patients to overcome toxicity or resistance. Other companies that have obtained patents include: Roche, Merck and Johnson & Johnson.

‘Each patent granted to brand-name companies in India will mean fewer medicines available for people living in poverty, Malpani said. ‘Patient groups in India are waging a battle that will determine the fate of HIV-positive people around the world.

‘Many people are under the illusion that ARV prices will continue to fall, Malpani continued. ‘Prices for second-line medicines are high and will stay high unless the companies adopt a more flexible approach to patent protection.

Oxfam spokesperson Dr. Mohga Kamal-Yanni said: ‘While some companies continue to deny people access to medicines, others are recognizing that a comprehensive solution is essential. The new innovation of patent pools holds great potential.

A patent pool invites pharmaceutical companies to conclude voluntary license agreements with UNITAID, enabling generic firms to produce key medicines at lower costs for developing countries while paying a royalty to the patent owner.

Kamal-Yanni said: ‘We are encouraged that several pharmaceutical companies at this conference expressed willingness to collaborate with UNITAID to make patent pools work. But until companies stop harassing countries for providing cheaper medicines, it is hard to take the pharmaceutical industry seriously.

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