Wednesday, June 08, 2011

IPR and medicines, Part 9

There's a good graph from The Economist in its Daily Chart section last June 3, 2011 issue. It's about the declining trend in deaths due to AIDS.

The Economist wrote, "... A decade ago, half of the people in several southern African countries were expected to die of AIDS. Now the death rate is dropping. In 2005 the disease killed 2.1m people. In 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, the number was 1.8m. Some 5m lives have already been saved by drug treatment. In 33 of the worst-affected countries the rate of new infections is down by 25% or more from its peak. Even more hopeful is a recent study which suggests that the drugs used to treat AIDS may also stop its transmission (see article). If that proves true, the drugs could achieve much of what a vaccine would."

Now, there are three issues and possibilities here. One is that the anti-HIV drugs and vaccines were indeed successful, even partially, in keeping the AIDS virus at bay, which allows the patients to improve their immune system. But the drugs and vaccines are not yet totally successful in killing the disease.

Two, previous estimates of actual deaths and future deaths due to AIDS were bloated and exaggerated. Thus, when a "recount" was made at the later years, the mistake of exaggeration was discovered. I remember it was the WHO and/or another UN office focused on AIDS, that made really scary scenarios about the AIDS epidemic in the future. Meaning they wanted more money if the world did not want their scenarios to happen.

And three, it could be a combination of the two above. The end result is that there are less people actually dying of AIDS, and the alarmism about AIDS has also gone down.

Last May 27, 2011, there was another good chart also from The Economist. It's about Drugs in development, or drugs not yet marketed, are patented, and are still in the research laboratories.

Caption in the chart said, " 2010 America spent $125 billion on cancer treatment. By 2020 that number may rise to $207 billion, according to the National Institutes of Health. Drug companies are scurrying to become leaders in cancer research. This month Roche submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a new melanoma drug, vemurafenib. Pfizer boasted that the FDA had granted “priority review” for a drug, crizotinib, that treats some types of lung cancer. Other firms are hawking progress ahead of an important conference in June. Theirs is a risky, two-part strategy. First, create drugs that work. Second, charge a fortune for them."

Those 900+ different new drugs against cancer, still in various R&D stages, are proof that the claims by the anti-IPR people that "IPR like patent kills innovation and competition as whoever invents a new product like a new drug, automatically shuts off the door to other researchers and inventors to produce another product, another drug."

The opposite happens. Someone invents a new drug against breast cancer, more powerful than existing and old drugs against the same disease, he patents it. Another corporation or group of researchers invent a new drug, from different raw materials, forming a different molecule, to treat or control breast cancer. Several hundred companies or research institutes compete with each other in producing a more powerful drug or vaccine against a particular disease, and all of them have their discoveries and inventions patented. No one is excluded or disenfranchised from pursuing their own research and innovation work. Rather, everyone is encouraged to pursue such as there is a system of laws that recognize and protect them as the original inventors.

Here in the Philippines, there are very few patented drugs in the market. It is noticeable for instance, that the biggest pharma here, a local one, Unilab, is less noisy now in running after the patented drugs of Pfizer and other multinationals. Patent of Norvasc is expiring this year I think; that of Lipitor (anti-cholesterol; UL's brand is Avamax) is also expiring next year or the next, I think. These will make the provisions of the Cheaper Medicines Law (RA 9502) on compulsory licensing (CL), special CL, and parallel importation of patented drugs, become moot and academic. There simply are very
few, and possibly, NO MORE, patented drugs here in the Philippines soon.

It is possible that the policy of some multinational pharma of delayed launching, or non-launching, of patented drugs to countries with laws authorizing price control, CL and related IPR-busting policies, has come to us. Some of the newest, more disease-killer, more expensive, patented drugs, are available in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, S. Korea, Japan, US, etc. but not available in the Philippines, other countries. I am not sure about this as I do not have data yet.

If this is happening now, then desperate patients in the Philippines, rich or non-rich, may have to travel abroad to get these more powerful drugs and boost their chance of survival from certain diseases. But that will make treatment even more expensive.

A basic law, the "Law of unintended consequences", almost always produce undesirable, non-anticipated negative result, whenever governments come in to intervene supposedly to protect the public.

See related articles

1. IPR and medicines, Part 8 last March 31, 2011
2. IPR and medicines, Part 6 last March 15, 2011

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