An important global health meeting at the UN this week focuses on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – like (most) cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Global drug companies use intellectual property and trade rules to maximize profits in wealthy markets, and increasingly in growing markets in developing countries, the so-called “Pharmerging Markets.”
Legal rules grant many flexibilities and exceptions to balance innovation and access in global pharmaceutical trade. Global drug companies want these exceptions narrow and rare; advocates for poorer people want these flexibilities appropriately used and expanded. The WTO TRIPS Agreement and the related Doha Declaration are key texts in this discussion. The Obama Administration is to the right of George Bush on this issue, demanding an IP maximalist policy.
Gardiner Harris’s story in today’s NYT correctly describes some aspects of the issues, but gives the false impression that TRIPS flexibilities are limited to “emergencies, or ‘epidemics’” such as AIDS. He’s totally wrong on that, and should know better. From my 2008 article in AJLM:
From the perspective of public health, limiting access programs and TRIPS flexibilities to particular diseases would be quite dangerous and unnecessary. Dangerous because the diseases of the world’s rich and poor countries are converging, including non-communicative diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and depression. Radically cheaper medicines for these conditions could significantly improve health in LMICs. Limitation is also unnecessary because proven tools can be deployed to preserve high-income markets while LMICs pursue equitable flexibilities.
To date, the important global legal texts retain broad application to all relevant diseases, but the some parties continue to propose disease-specific limitations, most recently in the World Health Organization’s Intergovernmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (the WHO IGWG). The WHO IGWG’s task is to distill the WHO CIPIH Report into a global strategy and plan of action. This article hopes to influence the final text of the IGWG Global Strategy, finding that disease-specific limitations on access programs and TRIPS flexibilities are inappropriate in markets for medicines, but disease-specific programs are important in markets for neglected disease innovation.
h/t to Jamie Love at KEI, who also notes on IP-Health that the Obama Administration and DG-Trade are blocking any mention of the Doha Declaration in connection with non-communicable diseases.
Suggested correction language:
Under Article 31 of the TRIPS Agreement, compulsory licensing is not limited to “epidemics” or “emergencies.” Nor are other TRIPS flexibilities for drug patents so conditioned. The NYT regrets the error.