Debate Over Cipro Patent Mirrors Controversy Over AIDS Drugs
Following the deaths of three Americans from anthrax, the United States has threatened to allow generic production of Bayer's patented anti-anthrax medicine Cipro, even though U.S. trade representatives have opposed plans by developing nations to loosen international patent rules on medicines for HIV/AIDS, which kills more than two million Africans each year, the Guardian reports (Boseley, Guardian, 10/24). The Bush administration this week threatened to override Bayer's patent on Cipro and allow cheaper production of the drug if the company did not lower its price. Bayer agreed on Tuesday to lower the price of Cipro for the federal government to less than $1 per pill, a nearly 50% reduction from the current price of $1.83 per tablet (American Health Line, 10/24).
Echoes of African Debate
The growing concern over anthrax in the United States has "brought the patent issue -- and the parallels between the U.S. health crisis and the AIDS epidemic" -- to the public's attention in the United States, the Guardian reports (Guardian, 10/24). During a meeting in September, World Trade Organization delegates from 52 developing countries asked other WTO ministers to approve a proposal that would clarify language in the Trade-Related Aspects of International Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement to say that TRIPS would "not prevent governments from taking measures necessary to protect public health," including the production or importation of generic AIDS drugs. The proposal also asked for an agreement stating that developing nations would be protected from "any legal action for alleged violations of the TRIPS accord, including the lawsuits" currently pending in several countries. The countries' proposal, however, was blocked by ministers from the United States, Switzerland, Japan, Australia and Canada, who submitted an alternative proposal stating that "there is essentially no problem with the [TRIPS] agreement and no need for clarifications" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/4). AIDS groups and humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontieres, which supported the developing nations' proposal, hope that the current "anthrax fears" in the United States will "put pressure on the United States" at next month's WTO meeting in Doha, Qatar, where TRIPS language will be discussed. Michael Bailey of Oxfam said that the anthrax scare "might encourage the United States to be a bit more sensitive" to the issue of access to medicines. Ellen t'Hoen of MSF added, "What is very telling is that now [that] the United States and Canada are facing a shortage [of antibiotics] and a problem of providing the medicines that the government thinks are needed to protect health ... they are looking for ways of overcoming ... the patent ... barrier" (Guardian, 10/24). The proposals submitted by the WTO ministers from the developing nations and the United States, as well as a collection of TRIPS-related information, are available online at the WTO Web site.