After months of negotiation, the public has spoken. Public health outcry surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) resounds online, in print and on television.
“We have raised our voice as loudly as we can,” said Manica Balasegaram, executive director of Doctors Without Borders’ (DWB) access campaign. “This is a terrible deal for access to affordable medicines.”
The idea behind campaigns like the one headed by DWB is to remove the intellectual property laws (many pertaining to pharmaceuticals that treat life-threatening conditions) from the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP).
As it stands, according to a November 13 Wikileak, the TPP would seek to extend the patent on brand-name pharmaceuticals an additional five years (delaying the onset of cheaper generic drugs that compete with brand-names), as well as 12 years of “data exclusivity” for biologic drugs, of which include many cancer and multiple sclerosis therapies.
While these intellectual property rights are sure-fire ways to keep pharmaceutical prices high—even unreachable for many in developing countries—defenders of the TPP laud them as ways to improve health, not hamper it.
The first line of the secret TPP document that was leaked by Julian Assange in 2013 decries that the thought process behind these intellectual property laws is to “enhance the role of intellectual property in promoting economic and social development in relation to the new digital economy, technological innovation, and transfer the dissemination of technology and trade.”
As increases in antibiotic resistance demands more innovation in pharmaceuticals, they remove incentives for Big Pharma to pursue antibiotic options (data shows that the more times you use these antibiotics, the less effective they are, so profits are capped).
Beneath this intellectual property clause that is a roadblock to doctors and patients everywhere, lies a real problem–how can we incentivize further development of life-saving antibiotic therapies?
The best way our society knows how to incentivize something is to monetize it. The idea of writing hours of code at a computer was abhorrent, for many, until Bill Gates and Steve Jobs turned personal computers into million-dollar industries.
The intellectual property laws surrounding pharmaceuticals (especially, antibiotics) exist to serve this purpose—to create an industry that is robust, profitable and differentiated.
It is even present in the existing TRIPS free trade agreement which guarantees some intellectual property laws in free trade agreements, even providing special waivers to certain developing countries that exempt them having to abide by pharmaceutical patents until at least January 2016.
“The LDC waivers [exemption from TRIPS-sponsored patent law for drugs] are among the important flexibilities available in the TRIPs agreement,” wrote a UNAID 2012 report.
“Retaining the flexibility to adapt intellectual property law and policy to meet national development objected has facilitated the development of robust generic industries such as India and Brazil. Generic competition, primarily from Indian pharmaceutical manufacturers, has been one of the key factors in the dramatic decrease in prices of…medicines for HIV treatment.”
If the TPP must go through, which according to some reports will happen before the dawn of the 2016 election year, the TRIP waiver program has already given us the skeleton of a tool to combat it.
If intellectual property rights for biologic therapies and drugs in the US are to be tightened, the extension of the waivers for generic development elsewhere may be necessary.
Diversify the market–let the developing nations step in with their own budding pharmaceutical industries and mollify the situation that the TPP has the power to create.
– Emma Betuel
Sources: UNITAID, UNAIDS, About News, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), WikiLeaks, Health Affairs, Center for American Progress