PROTECTING AIDS DRUGS IN TRADE PACTS
July 8, 2004
While public health groups are urging wider use of generic drugs to lower the cost of treating AIDS in developing countries, U.S. trade negotiators and drug industry representatives are seeking to strengthen protections for brand-name drugs in trade pacts.
Activists say that essential medicines should not be treated as mere commodities needing protection, but drug companies point out that widespread use of generics makes further AIDS research unlikely:
- Current practices in many countries make it too easy for generic drug makers to copy and sell branded products, thus profiting from the costly research done by brand-name companies.
- Many makers of branded drugs do provide low or no-cost drugs for AIDS and other life-threatening diseases to developing countries, says the industry.
Makers of generic drugs counter that brand-name drugs are frequently too costly and inaccessible to patients in the developing world:
- Of the nearly 40 million people with HIV or AIDS globally, less than 10 percent have access to lifesaving drugs, and most of them are in the West (although proportionately fewer in the developing world have access).
- Thailand's government treats 35,000 Thais with state-manufactured AIDS generics, but newer brand-name generics will become off-limits under a proposed U.S.-Thailand trade pact.
A trade agreement called Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), passed a decade ago, required signatories to grant 20-year market exclusivity to patented drugs, but that provision only applies to drugs in circulation after a country has implemented a patent system -- current drugs don't count.
U.S. trade negotiators are working on agreements with several countries that will grant temporary exclusivity to brand-name drug companies.
Source: Marilyn Chase and Sarah Lueck, "In New Trade Pacts, U.S. Seeks to Limit Reach of Generic Drugs," Wall Street Journal, July 6, 2004.
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