New York/Singapore, February 20, 2014—Egregious intellectual property provisions that will greatly impede access to affordable medicines for at least half a billion people must be removed before Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal negotiations are finalized, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today, as countries prepare for TPP negotiations in Singapore this week.
“Make no mistake, in terms of health, the TPP remains the most damaging trade agreement we’ve ever seen, particularly for patients living in middle-income countries, where the vast majority of the world’s poor people live,” said Judit Rius Sanjuan, US Access Campaign manager for MSF. “This is a massive, far-reaching trade deal that is putting lives at stake.”
The US Trade Representative has suggested it is prepared to give several of the poorest countries in the negotiations more time to comply with some of the intellectual property provisions, but ultimately all countries, including those with very high rates of poverty, will be forced to comply with these damaging new constraints. Furthermore, the TPP will force all countries to make changes in their laws to facilitate the extension of patent monopolies on medicines beyond 20 years, a practice called patent "evergreening." It will also create additional barriers to accessing clinical trial data for a new class of drugs called biologics, greatly lengthening monopolies in TPP countries, which will prevent lower-cost versions of medicines from entering the market.
“If passed in its current form, you can say goodbye to patent terms that expire at 20 years and hello to even longer monopolies and sky-high drug prices,” warned Rius Sanjuan. “Governments of every TPP country: if you ever try to challenge a patent or control drug prices, get ready to be sued for hundreds of millions by pharmaceutical companies. You will be at the mercy of the commercial interests of multinational pharmaceutical companies. These are the dangerous terms of the deal you are about to sign.”
These are not theoretical concerns, and the worst of the TPP’s provisions will affect all countries, rich and low-income, said Rius Sanjuan. The government of Canada is currently being sued by US pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly for $500 million for rejecting two medicine patents. Under rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which are also contained in the TPP, Eli Lilly and other pharmaceutical companies are allowed to sue governments when laws designed to protect public health and the public interest could potentially lower expected profits.
Extension of patent terms beyond 20 years for tweaks to existing medicines is one of the most concerning provisions in the intellectual property section of the TPP. In South Africa, for example, where MSF is treating people with drug-resistant tuberculosis, 20 percent of the program budget goes to pay for just one medicine, linezolid, made by Pfizer. A generic version of this antibiotic is already available in India at a much lower price, but because of secondary patents in South Africa—where almost every drug is granted a patent—MSF may have to continue paying a very high price long after the primary patent expires in South Africa later this year, forcing long-term rationing of this vitally important medicine.
“The current system of granting monopoly patent protection for changes to medicines that do not make products more effective, is a perversion of a system that is supposed to reward true innovation,” said Rius Sanjuan. “Monopoly protection has enabled prices for old anti-asthma and antibiotic medicines, for example, to skyrocket, while doing little to promote innovation. Under the TPP, this abuse of the patent system will become the new global standard.”