WHO Commission Report on Biomedical Innovation, Patents and Public Health Contains Many Sound Proposals, but Mistakenly Underestimates Vital Role of Patents, say Pharmaceutical Companies

April 4, 2006

Geneva, 03 Apr 2006

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Under the chairmanship of Madame Ruth Dreifuss, former Swiss President and cabinet minister, the WHO Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health (CIPIH) today released its report, following two years' hard work. The Report contributes much to the important international discussions regarding the relationship between intellectual property, innovation and public health. The IFPMA supports more than 70% of the sixty recommendations made in the Report.

Dr. Harvey Bale, Director General of the IFPMA, noted that, "Among the Reports most significant positive contributions include recommending strengthening measures to promote research and development for targeting 'neglected' diseases which particularly affect developing countries, eliminating onerous tariffs on pharmaceutical products that negatively impact consumers (who pay out of their own pocket in developing countries), strengthening efforts to harmonize and improve regulatory standards thereby assuring the quality of pharmaceuticals, fighting the rise in trade in counterfeit drugs, and halting the 'brain drain' of health professionals from developing to industrialized countries."

The Report recognizes the R&D-based pharmaceutical industry's important contributions to discovering and developing medicines for 'neglected diseases' affecting predominantly developing countries. The report indicates that "Industry has created new programmes of R&D devoted to the specific needs of developing countries" (Report, p.9) and notes that 63 products for such diseases are being developed -- 16 by industry alone and 47 others through public/private partnerships (PPP's) in which industry participates. Thus, the Report's recommendation to build upon established and successful market-based incentives, rather than radical overhaul, is positive and welcome.

IFPMA notes that in the Report's Annex, several Commissioners express strong differences or dissents from key aspects of the report. Two university professors from Italy and Japan, along with an honored scientist and lecturer who developed the first drug to fight the HIV/AIDs virus (AZT), take very strong exception to an "untested assumption" in the Report suggesting that compulsory licensing and "relaxing IPR rules will generally benefit developing countries" (p. 2).

These concerns are justified. There is a negative relationship between the Commission's positive goals and some of its recommendations. This is illustrated by the fact that the CIPIH urges the industry to be increasingly engaged on a sustained basis in R&D into 'neglected diseases' and work more with 'public-private partnerships' (p. 95). But in direct contradiction, the Report surprisingly recommends that developing countries should make use of compulsory licensing "where this power might be useful as one of the means available to promote, inter alia, research that is directly relevant to the specific health problems of developing countries" (p. 70). It has never been demonstrated that compulsory licensing will increase R&D – in fact, will only serve as a disincentive with negative health outcomes.

As Dr. Bale noted, "The Report welcomes, and we support, greater collaboration between industry and public actors in areas where private market incentives may be inadequate for encouraging development of new treatments and vaccines for diseases endemic in poorer countries. But the Report's repeated references to compulsory licensing as a panacea for fundamental poverty and structural problems in developing countries' health care systems are not going to help in the least, and many developing countries will reject calls for weakening their IP systems that have, in fact, helped them to improve their health care capacities. Looking across the world, those developing countries that have stronger patent and other IP laws are those that have better health capacities, in terms of both access and R&D."

In summary, despite certain significant shortcomings, the CIPIH effort will help inform global discussions on how to go forward and the Report contains many useful recommendations for advancing initiatives to strengthen access and R&D for the benefit of developing countries.

About the IFPMA

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation representing national industry associations and companies from both developed and developing countries. Member companies of the IFPMA are research-based pharmaceutical, biotech and vaccine companies. For More Information Please Contact Guy Willis Director of Communications, IFPMA
Ch. Louis-Dunant, 15
P.O. Box 195
1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland
Email: g.willis@ifpma.org
Tel: +41 (22) 338 32 00
Fax: +41 (22) 338 32 99

International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations -- IFPMA
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