As Big Pharma Piles On The Political Pressure, Indian Government Slows Pace Of Compulsory Drug Licensing
from the regrettable-for-many,-fatal-for-some dept
As we've been reporting for a while now, the Indian government has been taking advantage of the provision in TRIPS that permits it to issue compulsory licenses for key drugs at affordable prices. As Professor Brook Baker explained last year:
the WTO TRIPS Agreement allows India and any other country to issue compulsory licenses on any grounds they want to as long as certain procedural safeguards are followed. Using fully lawful compulsory licensing procedures, India did issue a compulsory license on an overpriced Bayer cancer medicine, citing three justifications in a 60-plus page decision: excessive pricing, failure to supply the market, and refusal to produce locally. As a result of this license, the cost of the cancer medicine has now fallen more than 97%, showing the excess mark-up that Bayer imposes on patients.
That obviously doesn't sit too well with Western pharmaceutical companies, whose business model is essentially to sell low volumes of new drugs for extremely high prices that only the relatively affluent can afford. From the Western drug industry's perspective, India's actions are particularly troubling for the example they provide to other emerging nations. That's why big pharma companies are getting US politicians to put pressure on India to limit grants of compulsory licenses, or face retaliatory measures. According to this article in The Times of India, it seems to be working:
Amid heightened scrutiny of the intellectual property regime, the [Indian] government has decided to tread with caution on a compulsory licence for a cancer drug to ensure that its decision is in line with the legal provisions.
Although that caution is understandable, the sad fact is people are likely to die as a result of this slowing of the flow of cancer treatments at affordable prices, brought about by big pharma companies worried about profit margins. That's rather ironic for an industry that is predicated on saving lives.
While compulsory licencing, which entails waiver of patent under extreme situations, for three cancer drugs was being pushed by the health ministry, the issue is now limited to Dasatinib, a medicine to treat a type of cancer of the white blood cells, for which Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) holds a patent.