Using Generic Drugs to Save Lives Worldwide

NY Times Lettter-to-the-Editor on MSF concerns that a provision in proposed U.S. health care legislation will allow pharmaceutical companies to extend monopolies on high-priced, cutting-edge medicines.

Re “Biologics Boondoggle,” by Anthony D. So and Samuel L. Katz (Op-Ed, March 8):

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières is concerned that a provision in proposed health care legislation would allow pharmaceutical companies to extend monopolies on high-priced medicines known as biologics. As a medical humanitarian organization providing vaccines and treating diseases around the world, we fear that this provision would create another barrier to developing affordable generic versions of cutting-edge drugs.

Biologics hold great promise for new vaccines and medicines. Our experience has shown how critical competition is to reducing prices and improving access. Thanks to generic competition, the most commonly used combination of AIDS drugs used in developing countries now costs $80 per patient per year — 99 percent less than 10 years ago. This decrease — mostly as a result of using generics from India — was critical to the expansion of global treatment by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund.

Médecins Sans Frontières is concerned that the increasingly stringent data exclusivity rules proposed for biologic medicines will be used by pharmaceutical companies to put even more pressure on developing countries to adopt these new rules and impede access to affordable medicines.

Médecins Sans Frontières’ experience treating patients for H.I.V. and other diseases is possible, in large part, thanks to the availability of affordable generic drugs. Health must be a priority over profits.

by Emi MacLean, United States director, Access to Essential Medicines Campaign, Médecins Sans Frontières.