Patients before Patents – Response to The Economist by MSF and Oxfam


Protect patients, not patents

SIR – You argued that “protection should not be weakened” on pharmaceutical patents (“The new drugs war”, January 4th). Drug patents protect drug-companies’ profits, not patients. The industry promotes several myths to justify its outlandish prices, such as that it costs $1 billion to develop a new medicine, that private companies pay for all drug R&D costs (government and tax-subsidised institutions contribute heavily), that stronger patent protection equates to more innovation and that people in America and Europe must subsidise the rest of the world’s medicines.

The truth is that pharmaceutical companies charge high prices and reap enormous profits because they can. Tiered pricing not only blocks access for most of the world’s poor, it also does nothing to bring down costs. As a medical organisation providing treatment for tuberculosis, HIV and other diseases, it has long been clear to us that the current system for medical innovation is broken. Today, millions of people in both rich and poor countries are staring at a steady wave of diseases that come with age, and realise they can’t afford to pay for the medicines to treat them.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in its current form will only exacerbate this growing health crisis by allowing drug firms to extend monopolies beyond the 20 years already guaranteed under global trade rules, as well as limiting governments’ ability to regulate prices.

Rohit Malpani
Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign

* SIR – The amount of money pharmaceutical companies report to spend on researching and developing new medicines is notoriously secretive. Companies tell us they spend $1.5 billion annually, but this information (based on a single study funded by the companies themselves) has not been independently verified.

Also, the pharmaceutical industry has been pricing its patent medicines differently in developing countries for decades, yet despite companies’ claims to the contrary these products have not flooded American or European markets.

Developing countries rely on generic medicines to meet their needs, and not off-patent branded medicines as your article claimed. You praised Roche for selling its products cheaply in Egypt but did not mention that they only did so after an Egyptian generic company, Minapharm, manufactured and sold drugs at a third of the original price..

Dr Mohga Kamal-Yanni
Senior Health Policy Adviser for Oxfam