British Government Declares Patent Protections Must be Upheld
The British government has "firmly" sided with the pharmaceutical industry in the ongoing debate over intellectual property rights for AIDS drugs, the London Guardian reports. A group of British ministers, including Health Minister Lord Hunt and Science Minister Lord Sainsbury, and a coalition of executives from major drug companies wrote in a new report that "[i]ntellectual property rights ... are the lifeblood of the innovative pharmaceutical industry." The report, which has been "explicitly endorsed" by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, states that "intellectual property protection is not per se a barrier to access to medicines and attempts to weaken it would be counter-productive." Government and industry leaders say that while "[t]here is much that can be done" to improve access to AIDS drugs, both parties are "acutely aware of the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa and their responsibilities in responding to it." The "uncompromising stance" outlined in the report illustrates that the British government is "publicly backing the position of the pharmaceutical giants" even as the European Union, of which Britain is a member, is calling on 39 drug companies to drop their lawsuit against South Africa over a law that would allow the country to import or produce cheaper generic AIDS drugs. AIDS activists expressed disappointment over the government's position. Sophia Tickell, senior policy advisor at Oxfam, said, "It does look as if the government is capitulating to big business. ... It seems a backward step and out of line with a growing number of other governments" (Boseley, Guardian, 3/31). A copy of the report can be viewed at http://www.doh.gov.uk/pictf/pictf.pdf.
German Chancellor Requests Price Cuts
In other drug access news, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has asked the international pharmaceutical industry to further decrease the price of AIDS drugs for developing nations. In a letter to Rolf Krebs, president of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations and vice chair of Boehringer Ingelheim Pharma KG, Schroeder asked that drug firms work to provide "affordable treatment" for HIV-positive individuals in developing nations, especially Africa and Latin America. Schroeder spokesperson Uwe-Karsten Heye declined to give additional details on the letter. After a meeting in Washington last Thursday, Schroeder and President Bush said they wanted the G8 group of industrialized nations to "intensify their efforts to ease the suffering of millions of people who are infected" with HIV (Associated Press, 3/30).