Patent rights stimulate R&D, but fall short in helping poor countries obtain lifesaving drugs

Intellectual property protection is needed to encourage risk taking and innovation in large research-based pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology firms. However, in a report published this month, world health leaders emphasize that intellectual property protection may not be enough to address the larger problem of how to get cheap drugs to poor countries.

The report explores themes discussed by 40 representatives from private industry, governments, research funders, multilateral and bilateral organizations, non-governmental organizations, and universities who gathered recently in Cambridge, UK to address these issues.

"This forum and the resulting report is really an attempt to bridge the gap between drug makers, who defend their right to patent protection, and activists, who argue that patents unfairly drive up prices of pharmaceutical products," said Carol Medlin, PhD, project director at the UCSF Institute for Global Health. "Forum participants were trying to shoot down the middle - to figure out how to provide drugs cheaply without creating a disincentive for firms to invest in the development of new products."

The forum agenda was sparked by fallout from the 1995 TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement, which required World Trade Organization (WTO) member countries to recognize and protect intellectual property from other countries. Patent protection under TRIPS extends for a minimum of 20 years. Prior to the agreement, WTO-affiliated countries were able to produce cheap copies of drugs and other pharmaceutical products because they were under no obligation to meet the same standard of intellectual property rights protection offered elsewhere (largely in the U.S., Europe and Japan), explained Medlin, co-author of the report titled Global Health Forum II - Intellectual Property Rights and Global Health: Challenges for Access and R&D, published by the UCSF Institute for Global Health, The Wellcome Tr

Contact: Maureen McInaney
University of California - San Francisco

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