No Change in WTO Generic Drug Access Agreement Talks, Pharmaceutical Industry Says
Pharmaceutical industry officials on Thursday said that talks over access to generic drugs, including antiretrovirals, are "deadlocked," despite optimism from officials at the World Trade Organization, Reuters reports (Waddington, Reuters, 5/22). The talks have been stalled since members missed a Dec. 31, 2002, deadline to reach an agreement. U.S. negotiators in February refused to sign a deal under the Doha declaration to allow developing nations to override patent protections to produce generic versions of drugs to combat public health epidemics such as AIDS unless wording was included to specify which diseases constitute a public health epidemic. The United States said that without such a list, developing nations could use patent overrides to produce generic versions of any patented drug -- such as Viagra -- that is not used to fight public health epidemics (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/2). Harvey Bale, president of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations, said that there had been no change in positions since the breakdown of the talks. Supachai Panitchpakdi, director-general of the WTO, and other trade officials have called for a resolution to the problem before the September meeting of the WTO in Cancun, Mexico. The drug compromise is seen as a "make or break" opportunity to boost the world economy with the Doha declaration, according to Reuters (Reuters, 5/22).
World Health Assembly Meets in Switzerland
The 56th Session of the World Health Organization's World Health Assembly convened last week in Geneva, Switzerland, the Banjul Independent/AllAfrica.com reports (Bojang, Banjul Independent/AllAfrica.com, 5/23). In advance of the assembly's discussion of international property rights, Medecins Sans Frontieres on Thursday released a report, titled "Drug Patents Under the Spotlight" (MSF release, 5/22). The report found that resource-poor countries that do not have the capacity to accurately assess medical patent applications are granting more patents than necessary, driving up the price of treatments and preventing research on alternatives. For example, many West African countries gave approval to GlaxoSmithKline's antiretroviral treatment Combivir within a couple years of its 1997 application, while the European Union is still investigating the application (Koppel, Associated Press, 5/22). In addition, the AIDS advocacy and human rights group HealthGAP on Wednesday published in a press release an allegedly leaked draft of a U.S. resolution regarding medical intellectual property rights. The draft resolution urges member states to promote the development of new preventative and therapeutic medications through strong patent and data protection and the implementation of tax incentives and patent extenstions on existing drugs for research on medicines for diseases affecting developing countries. HealthGAP's Brook Baker said that the resolution shows that the United States has "respond[ed] to the pharmaceutical industry's insatiable drive for profits" and is attempting to use the WHA "to champion monopoly protections on life-saving drugs," which will "condemn millions of people living with HIV/AIDS and other diseases of poverty to unnecessary suffering and death" (HealthGAP release/AllAfrica.com, 5/21).