WHO Director Questions IP Rights, Drug Prices, Industry Influence 12/11/2015 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Saying she could speak more freely outside of the World Health Organization, WHO Director General Margaret Chan today told a gathering of think tank representatives at the Graduate Institute of Geneva that intellectual property rights may be unfairly driving up drug prices and that industry lobbying may be interfering with governments’ efforts to take action on behalf of their citizens’ public health. DG Chan at Global Health Program “Intellectual property rights and the patent system continue to raise questions about fairness. I have been hearing some serious concerns that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the biggest trade agreement ever, may adversely affect the market for generics and biosimilars and increase the cost of medicines,” Chan said in her remarks, available here. “I would like to hear your views. If these agreements open trade yet close access to affordable medicines, we have to ask: Is this really progress at all, especially with the costs of care soaring everywhere?” she said. “And they are soaring.” “Genuine therapeutic breakthroughs increasingly come at an astronomical cost,” Chan continued. “Some of the new drugs for hepatitis C cost US$ 1000 a pill. In poorer countries, adding 1 new drug to the standard regimen for treating breast cancer greatly increases the cost.” “High prices block access,” the director said. “Hepatitis C affects around 150 million people, mostly living in poor countries. Unless we get these prices down, many millions of people will be left behind.” She added: “Let me ask you. What is a fair profit for a pharmaceutical company? To what extent does the market exclusivity conferred by patent protection actually stimulate innovation? I have heard this widely-held assumption challenged by several economists.” Chan, whose UN agency is currently undergoing a wrenching process to establish terms for dealing with industry and other “non-state actors,” added concerns that big economic interests could be interfering with policymaking by public officials on the public’s behalf. “I worry about interference, by powerful economic operators, in the new targets for alcohol, tobacco, and noncommunicable diseases, including many that are diet-related,” she said. “Economic power readily translates into political power.” She gave an example that “Of all the demand-reduction measures set out in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, increasing taxes and prices for tobacco products is by far the most effective. It is also the least implemented, largely because of interference by the tobacco industry.” In some US cities, she said, “efforts to impose taxes on soda were effectively blocked by the beverage industry. However, extensive media coverage of the issues, including the risk that consumption of sugary beverages increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, and other diseases, led to a sharp reduction in consumption.” In the end, she concluded, “mayors got what they wanted, though not through the intended way. Is public opinion, sometimes outrage at industry practices, a resource we ought to use more?” Global Issues Global Health Programme, Graduate Institute Chan spoke at the “Meeting of Global Health Policy Think Tanks and Academic Institutions.” She addressed a panel on “The SDGs and the Game Change in Global Health.” Intellectual Property Watch is among the invited groups attending the 3-day meeting organised by the Global Health Programme of the Graduate Institute. A public closing session will be held tomorrow afternoon, information is here. Separately, in discussing the newly approved 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets, Chan raised concerns about the major problems confronting the world the moment, which are daily issues dealt with by the UN. “This is a world that is seeing not the best in human nature, but the worst: international terrorism, senseless mass shootings, bombings in markets and places of worship, ancient and priceless archaeological sites reduced to rubble, and the seemingly endless armed conflicts that have contributed to the worst refugee crisis since the end of the second World War,” she said. And she added that the ambitious health goals of the SDGs raise the bar even higher, making new challenges that will need support. “Leaving no one behind, ending epidemics, and ending preventable deaths require a massive scaling up of interventions,” she said. “Who will implement? Who will pay?” Image Credits: William New, GHP Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related William New may be reached at email@example.com."WHO Director Questions IP Rights, Drug Prices, Industry Influence" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.