Tuesday, September 13, 2011 5:02 pm | By Kelsey Zahourek
While much of the current trade focus is on the push to pressure the Administration to submit the pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama, efforts to negotiate future agreements are currently underway, namely the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).
This week, the 8th round of trade negotiations on the TPP is being held in Chicago and a top agenda item is intellectual property protection, particularly in the area of pharmaceuticals. To coincide with the current trade round, a group of 37 Senators, led by Sens. Hatch and Kerry, sent a letter to USTR Kirk urging the Administration to maintain strong IP standards in the agreement and specifically calling for the baseline for data exclusivity on biologics to be consistent with U.S. law, meaning a minimum of 12 years.
Earlier this year, PRA echoed these same sentiments in a letter to USTR Kirk and Members of Congress stating:
“The US currently has one of the strongest and fastest growing biotech and pharmaceutical industries in the world. Weakening of IP rights not only is detrimental to the economy, but also puts the public’s health and safety at risk. Drugs being researched and manufactured today have been proven effective against life threatening diseases like cancer, multiple sclerosis and diabetes due to reliable patent laws that encourage innovation. Research and development is very expensive, and companies need to have an incentive to keep inventing life-saving drugs. Any trade agreement negotiated by the United States must include an IP chapter that provides for an adequate data protection period in order for research companies to recoup the costs of research and development.”
There are many in NGO community that have long opposed strong intellectual property protections in trade agreements, believing it drives up the cost of medicines and is the main reason why most people in poor countries have little or no access to medicines. However, when looking a little closer, the high price of drugs in poor countries has less to do with intellectual property and more to do with trade barriers and regulations, such as high tariffs and taxes.
As part of their efforts, the Office of the United States Trade Representative released a white paper laying the groundwork for a new strategic initiative titled, “Trade Enhancing Access to Medicines.” The paper outlines several goals including eliminating tariffs on medicines, reducing internal barriers to distribution of medicines, and curbing the trade in counterfeit medicines.
While no one denies the importance of delivering safe, affordable drugs to the world’s poor, the route by which many are calling to take is paved with harmful consequences that affect the future of research and development on these critical drugs. The medicines that patients are using today, whether patented or generic are available because of laws that encourage innovation. This type of international cooperation will go a long way in providing life saving medicines to those that need it the most while promoting innovation for the next generation of drug research and development.