WIPO Conference Tackles IP-Health Dynamic 21/09/2007 by Paul Garwood for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service, and subscribing to our service helps support our goals of bringing more transparency to global IP and innovation policies. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You also have the opportunity to offer additional support to your subscription, or to donate. By Paul Garwood Intellectual property can help improve public health, but drug research costs must be controlled so patients in poor countries can afford urgently needed medicines, a World Intellectual Property Organization symposium heard Wednesday. The Geneva-staged event, at which representatives of United Nations bodies, foreign missions, non-governmental bodies and industry spoke, was held in the lead-up to the second World Health Organization-hosted session of its Intergovernmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (IGWG) on 5-10 November. The IGWG process is seen as a crucial vehicle for creating a system by which the international community, particularly countries and the pharmaceutical industry, can improve access to often expensive medicines, diagnostics and other healthcare products for poor populations. “IGWG is a great opportunity for discussing this new initiative to stimulate research” for new treatments, Pascale Boulet of Médecins Sans Frontières told the WIPO symposium. “We need to look at the link between research and the price of the product at the end.” Howard Zucker, representative of the WHO director-general on intellectual property, innovation and public health, said the IGWG process had conducted consultative forums in the six WHO regional groupings and staged meetings between its leadership, member states and other interested parties. “The challenge we have is that there are major changes being put forth regarding how to tie intellectual property, innovation and public health together,” Zucker said. “We have to look at the systems in place right now [to see if there] are there ways to modify systems … to address the concerns of public health and innovation.” Guilherme Cintra, representative of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, said drug makers were committed to developing new medicines and improving public health. But a fair system was needed to ensure companies would continue to pursue new innovations in the medicinal field. “Given the right incentives and recognition, we as an industry are willing to engage in partnerships that can make a big difference in people’s lives,” Cintra said. “When we discover a drug, all the countries benefit.” Cintra said a differential pricing scheme used by research-based drug companies sees some sell their products at cost price, even at a loss, in various developing countries. But Boulet, of MSF, said pharmaceutical firms had not done enough to expand drug research in poor countries, where diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis are rampant. Low or no profit margins provide little incentive for companies to conduct research in many parts of the developing world, she added. The World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) was adopted a decade ago with a view to increasing research into new medicines, she said. Thai diplomat Prangtip Kanchanahattakij said there was a great concern in the global community in the context of medicines development and the need to protect public health. “When we talk about access to medicines, it should be based on the health needs, not the capacity to pay, and public interest,” Kanchanahattakij said. “It should be about better and safer medicines [being made available] at an affordable price.” Thailand and Brazil have issued TRIPS-backed compulsory licenses to manufacture cheaper generic versions of patented drugs without approval from the medicines’ owners, she said. WIPO Deputy Director General Francis Gurry said there had been much progress in the “interface between intellectual property and health” during the last 10 years to conceptualise the many complex issues in the area. Paul Garwood may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. "WIPO Conference Tackles IP-Health Dynamic" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.