(Note: This is my guest article today in Manila Times, 07 December 2010 00:00)
Patents, Politics and Personalized Medicines
BY BIENVENIDO “NONOY” OPLAS
Diseases evolve, patients’ expectation of getting cured evolve, and so treatments and medicines also evolve.
Nothing is stagnant, everyone and everything keep changing, from disease virus and bacteria to physicians and patients. The issue of patents on newly-developed medicines by big multinational pharmaceutical companies remains a ticklish and emotional issue up to this day. Certain groups simply think that developing new medicines which they expect to be effective disease killer and safe at the same time only cost a few thousand or a few million dollars.
Thus, these should be sold as cheaply as possible. Or if the drug inventors will resist, governments should confiscate their invention and make it “others’ invention” as well so that those who did not spend a fortune on expensive R&D can manufacture those drugs as cheaply as possible.
Here in the Philippines, despite the provision in the Cheaper Medicines Law (RA 9502) that allows the government to confiscate the patent of certain important drugs via compulsory licensing (CL), there is little or no reason to rush its implementation. Not because the Philippine government and its politicians suddenly realize the negative long-term effects of heavy intervention like drug price control and confiscation of patents of costly drugs R&D. But because there are very few patented drugs now in the market, and the patent life of the few patented ones that are left is short already.
What we have now is the mushrooming of many generic manufacturers and traders in the Philippines and other developing countries. And all of these companies are beneficiaries of previously patented drug molecules whose efficacy and safety were discovered by the innovator companies.
Still there are global moves to kill drug patents as often as possible. The operative slogans are “patient over patent” and “people over profit,” as if there is inherent contradiction between the two, and as if there is no contradiction between unproductive bureaucracies and the public.
Given this reality of constant political threats, innovator drug companies have various options. One is to quit being a drug innovator and become an average generic manufacturer, or move to inventing new shampoo, new skin whiteners, new breast enlargers and other personal care products that are not subject to politics and envy.
Two is to continue drug innovation, but limit the sale of newly patented and more revolutionary drugs to countries that respect private property rights. Patients from the Philippines and other developing countries that are likely to declare price control or CL will not have access to such drugs, they will have to buy those from Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, US and other countries that respect private property rights.
And three, continue innovation for personalized medicines. The latter is a new approach utilizing biomarkers to evaluate compounds in the drug discovery process for various patients. The new development is that all of the biopharmaceutical research companies that were surveyed in the US by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development at Tufts University, are now investing in personalized medicines. See their press release here.
The implication here is that in the treatment of a particular disease, say prostate cancer or hypertension, there will be many new medicines that will be developed that are tailored to certain patients and which will not be applicable to other patients suffering from the same disease. Thus, for every 1,000 patients who suffer hypertension, there will not be one or two or five different drugs against hypertension, but probably 30 to 50 different drugs.
If there are 30 to 50 newly patented, newly developed drugs against hypertension alone, and there are 30 to 50 newly patented drugs against prostate cancer alone, which of them will be issued price control or CL by an intervention-itchy government? The top five most popular drugs, or top 10, or all of them?
As political intervention evolve, health innovation also evolve. And pretty soon, governments will only succeed in discouraging medicine innovation for new diseases that afflict the poor.
To prevent this from happening, governments should rein in their itchiness for endless intervention. And more innovator companies will sprout, to cater to various patients with various health needs and various and buying capacities. And public health will be served better.
Nonoy Oplas heads a free market think tank in Manila, Minimal Government Thinkers Inc. He blogs on health, climate, taxes, trade, politics and many other topics at http://funwithgovernment.blogspot.com