Pharmaceutical Companies Should Receive Patent Extensions, Guaranteed Markets for AIDS Drugs, Opinion Piece Says
Although there is an "urgent need to develop more powerful and more affordable" antiretroviral drugs and "continue to work on a cure" for HIV/AIDS, many pharmaceutical companies are "leaving the field," Roger Bate, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, writes in a Forbes magazine opinion piece. The number of pharmaceutical companies conducting research into HIV/AIDS drugs dropped from 83 in 1997 to 60 in 2003, and the number of products under development decreased from 128 to 83 during the same period, according to Bate. However, "you can hardly blame the drug companies for running" because HIV/AIDS drugs produce low profits when compared with drugs for cancer, hypertension, heart disease and erectile dysfunction, Bate says, adding that "[a]mong people who have money and insurance, millions more suffer from those ailments than from AIDS." As advocates "push" for lower prices and restricted patents for antiretroviral drugs in order to increase access to antiretroviral drugs around the world, companies "can expect profits from HIV medications to fall even further," Bate says.
Bate proposes an "unconventional answer" that combines patent expansions with guaranteed markets in order to stimulate research into HIV/AIDS drugs. If a pharmaceutical company develops a new drug, it would voluntarily give up the patent in developing countries or even worldwide, Bate writes, adding that the U.S. government would then grant the company an extended patent on any of its drugs in the United States for a certain amount of time as "quid pro quo." Under the second option of guaranteed markets, the "significant sum" that the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief spends to distribute antiretrovirals to developing nations would be paid only to companies that are investing a specific amount in HIV/AIDS research and drug development, Bate says. This option might create an incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs, Bate adds. Congress should pass legislation that requires this guaranteed market for at least 20 years, and the Bush administration should "pressure" other countries and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to "follow suit," Bate says. The discovery of new HIV/AIDS medications is "vital," as HIV is "rapidly developing resistance to existing drugs," Bate says, concluding that if "researchers are to develop new drugs, it is essential that companies be able to utter 'profit' and 'AIDS' in the same sentence. If not, the sentence future AIDS patients will face is death" (Bate, Forbes, 10/18).