On Wednesday February 8th 2017 Comhlamh Trade Justice group along with AWEPA hosted a conference looking at the current patent model and the issues of pharmaceutical companies monopolising the industry and charging massive amounts of money for life and death medicines.
The prevailing biomedical R&D model results in medicine prices ‘as high as the market will bear’- which is a price that is often out of reach of patients and governments. This is because medical innovation is largely incentivised by the promise that new products will be granted a 20 year patent-based monopoly. During this monopoly period pharmaceutical corporations, unencumbered by competition, are free to charge whatever the market will bear for their product, reaping billions of dollars in sales.
But whilst this system has generated some valuable medical innovation there are major weaknesses within it. Firstly, the monopoly conditions created by the patent mean that medicines are priced so high that it is the norm that large percentages of the world’s population in need of treatment cannot afford it.
These affordably high prices led to the deaths of millions across the developing world from AIDS in the early 2000s, and are increasingly affecting western health systems including the US, UK and Ireland where effective medicines are being rationed to control costs.
The current system also skews research agendas away from what we need most and towards what will make the most profit. Diseases like tuberculosis which largely affect the world’s poor are therefore ignored in favour of research on conditions more likely to generate significant revenue.
It also generate significant inefficiencies – replicating existing medicines is more cost effective than researching ground-breaking advances; and commercial secrecy leads to siloed research – often unknowingly retreading expensive dead-ends. Further problems exist around the poor return on public investment in medical research, lack of transparency on clinical evidence and other industry practices, as well as a host of other issues.
Whilst historically these problems have predominantly impacted the world’s poor, the last decade has seen a steady increase in the scale and visibility of their impact on western nations. Drug prices were high on the agenda during the US presidential election, and Donald Trump has vowed to take on the pharmaceutical industry. Ireland, home to a significant number of global pharmaceutical companies’ European headquarters, is not immune. Have a listen to audio from the discussions on the day.
Diarmaid McDonald – Just Treatment Access to medicine
Ciara Conlan Promoting Access to Essential Medicines: The Role of Universities
The panelists on the day were
Ellen ‘t Hoen – Author of Private Patents and Public Health; Changing Intellectual Property Rules for Access to Medicines.
Hans Hogerzeil – Professor of Global Health, University Medical Centre Groningen.
Diarmaid McDonald – Lead Organiser of Just Treatment; Alternate Board.
Ciara Conlan – Co-Founder, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines Ireland