UN Adopts Proposals Harmful to Patients and Intellectual Property Rights

On July 1 a number of developing countries pushed the United States, at the UN Human Rights Council, to adopt a resolution that would increase access to medicine at the expense of intellectual property protections.  Immediately, the UK, Switzerland, and the EU voiced their concerns stating that patents are crucial for innovation and are not linked to increased prices. The UK delegate even called it premature and an inefficient use of resources for the UN Human Rights Council to call for its own panel to address access to medicines before the current High Level Panel even delivers its findings, and this issue is outside the remit of the Human Rights Council.
Carol Adelman and Jeremiah Norris of the Hudson Institute released a response to the UN High Level Panel on Access to Medicines (HLP) which has targeted patents and intellectual property as the reason that the poor lack access to essential medicines.  As the report notes, “This issue has been extensively debated throughout the UN system since 2001, and the value of innovation and the intellectual property that fuels it has been well-established by these global health stakeholders.”
The first false premise of the HLP is that “Millions of poor people in low- and middle-income countries have been denied access to antiretroviral drugs and other medicines” It is clear that there are millions of people suffering from poor health who do not have access to adequate healthcare.  However, this complex issue cannot be narrowly attributed to patents when there is no infrastructure system to deliver medicines.
In looking at the advancements in medicine, including the drop in infant mortality and increase of life expectancy, it is obvious that healthcare has come a long way.  These advancements came from strong governments increasing their spending on healthcare combined with a decrease in poverty allowing more individuals to afford quality medical care, and most importantly strong intellectual property protections that incentivize research and development.
The second premise of the HLP is that it is patents that push the price of drugs up higher than patients can afford.  Yet, this ignores the reality that medicines are unavailable because of excessive tariffs as high as 14.6%, insufficient healthcare systems and a failure by international public health authorities to effectively regulate medicines.  Instead of addressing these constant shortcomings, the HLP has targeted patents, the driver of innovation.
Lastly, the HLP believes that intellectual property inhibits drug research. This ignores that the United States FDA “fast tracked” generic ARV drugs which could be used in developing countries.  By waiving fees and expediting the process, the FDA freed up $150 million more in spending per year to address patients’ access to care.  India jumped on the opportunity, earning the nickname, “the pharmacy of the developing world.” Yet, even with an increase in ARVs, only 750,000 of the 2.1 million HIV / AIDS patients in India had access to government run centers.  Therefore, the issue is not a lack of drugs, but a lack of distribution for existing drugs to patients in need.
Most shockingly, 90% of the drugs on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) essential medicines list are not even under patents. The remaining 10% are ARVs which India has the ability to produce at low costs. Thus, the HLP is blaming patents for drug prices when the drugs are not even under patents.   The HLP is ignoring that it currently costs $2.6 billion to bring a drug to market. Without protecting innovation through intellectual property, drug producers will be incentivized to attempt risky new drug treatments.
Ultimately, the report shows that  “the intellectual property system has encouraged innovation that has saved millions of lives by providing the poor with access to life saving therapies.”