World Intellectual Property Day: governments should ignore the conclusions of WHO report on intellectual property and public health at their own risk
Geneva - On the occasion of World Intellectual Property Day, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges governments meeting at the World Health Organization on Friday, April 28, to discuss the Commission on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Public Health (CIPIH) report published earlier this month. MSF wishes to ensure that the report's analysis on the impact of intellectual property on access to medicines is not lost to follow-up, and that its conclusions and recommendations are acted upon in a determined manner.
The CIPIH report presents a wealth of evidence in support of the view that the current system of drug development, because of its reliance on patents and commercial incentives for the priority setting and financing of medical research and development (R&D), is fundamentally flawed. The system leaves huge health needs unmet.
As an international humanitarian organisation, MSF is well placed to see how these shortcomings hit people in developing countries hardest, particularly those patients suffering from neglected diseases for which diagnostic, treatment, or prevention tools are lacking.
The report concludes that intellectual property (IP) is irrelevant in stimulating innovation for many of the diseases affecting people in developing countries, where patients have limited purchasing power. Furthermore, the report draws attention to the fact that patents can actually hamper innovation, by blocking follow-on research or access to research tools.
It also points out that, even in regions with strong IP, innovation results are declining. In the USA for example, medical R&D spending has doubled between 1995 and 2002, while the registration of new products has declined, as well as the therapeutic significance of products reaching the market.
Crucially, the report also warns against trade agreements that include excessive IP protection - the so-called "TRIPS plus" measures - "that may reduce access to medicines in developing countries", and analyses the various tools at governments' disposal, such as compulsory licensing, to counter this crisis of access to medicines.
"The CIPIH report clearly signals that innovation is meaningless if the people who need it do not have access to it," said Ellen 't Hoen, Director of Policy and Advocacy at MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "One message that comes through loud and clear from the report is that governments have to be proactive and ensure that health R&D does meet the needs of patients, and that newly developed products are accessible and affordable to those that need them".
Only with comprehensive reform of the current system for R&D for essential health tool will that be possible. The WHO meeting on April 28th provides a first opportunity to do this, as a group of Member States will be discussing the CIPIH report and how to build on its recommendations and conclusions.
One immediate way to ensure that the work of the CIPIH will have solid follow-up is for governments and WHO to promote the proposals made by Kenya and Brazil for a "Global Framework for Essential Health R&D". The proposal, submitted to the WHO Executive Board in January, will be debated at the World Health Assembly in May.
It calls on WHO to facilitate talks between interested governments, on establishing new international mechanisms that ensure that medical R&D is driven by health needs, and delivers products that are appropriate, affordable and accessible. Such time bound discussions are necessary if governments are serious about acting on their responsibility to ensure greater access to medical innovations for all.