Licensing of Generic AIDS Drugs Will Not Impede AIDS Drug Development, MSF Says
"[I]t is ludicrous to suggest that the use of generic [AIDS drugs] in Africa diminishes the economic incentive for multinational [drug companies] to conduct research," Dr. Bernard Pecoul, director of Medecins Sans Frontieres' Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, writes in a letter to the Wall Street Journal Europe (Pecoul, Wall Street Journal Europe, 3/5). Pecoul responds to a Feb. 25 op-ed by Richard Tren, director of Africa Fighting Malaria, in which Tren asserted that MSF's deal to circumvent patent laws and import generic AIDS drugs produced by Brazil's government-run FarMaguinhos laboratory into South Africa was a "bold decision," but not a "wise one." Tren states that the move will discourage drug companies from developing new AIDS treatments if labs like FarMaguinhos -- which does not conduct research to develop new drugs and reverse engineers patented drugs to ascertain their formulas -- are allowed to profit from drug companies' investments (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/26). Pecoul asserts that patents are "not divine rights, they are a societal tool that must be balanced to benefit everyone." He says that the use of generic AIDS drugs in Africa, which represents just 1% of drug sales, "will not dissuade the pharmaceutical industry from developing new AIDS drugs" because it will still profit from the wealthy nations that make up 80% of the drug market. Pecoul states that the patent system "can be an important fuel for innovation, but fails dramatically when there is no profitable market," citing the fact that only 1% of drugs approved in the last 25 years were for the treatment of tropical diseases that are endemic in primarily developing countries. "New cures are desperately needed for these diseases, but promising compounds are rarely pursued because they promise no return on investment," he adds. Pecoul says that the money MSF pays Brazil for its generic AIDS drugs will sponsor research into these "neglected diseases," contributing to the "development of much needed medicines for diseases that are being ignored by multinational drug companies" (Wall Street Journal Europe, 3/5).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.