UN gets it wrong on drug access

  • by: Peter Pitts |
  • 03/01/2017
From today's Pittsburgh Tribune --

U.N.'s errant prescription for drug access

What's the best way to improve health care for billions of people in the developing world? If you answered, “Attack health care firms,” you qualify for a job with the United Nations.

You'd also be dead wrong.

The U.N. recently released a plan to severely weaken patent protections and other forms of intellectual property (IP). U.N. officials believe that this will bring down the price of medicine in the developing world, thereby improving people's access to drugs.

Their recommendations would do the exact opposite. Dissolving IP protections would disincentivize drug research and slow the discovery of new treatments. Patients in both the developing and developed worlds would be worse off.

Drug development is an enormously expensive endeavor. It costs, on average, $2.6 billion to bring a new medicine to market. Just one out of every 5,000 promising compounds makes it from the lab through clinical trials to the pharmacy shelf. And just two out of every 10 approved drugs ever turn a profit.

IP rights are what make risky drug research a worthwhile bet for investors. By temporarily preventing the production of generics and creating a market monopoly, they ensure that the original innovator has a chance to profit from successful new products.

America has the strongest IP protections in the world, and they've driven a spectacular rate of innovation.

We've created more than 500 new medications in the past 15 years alone. That's more than the rest of the world combined. And we account for 70 percent of the 7,000 new drugs now under development globally. We're also home to 12 of the top 20 medical-device companies in the world.

These research efforts are aimed at the most devastating diseases. Today, American scientists are working on 74 new asthma medicines, 92 new arthritis treatments, and 93 therapies for Alzheimer's disease. They're also developing over 800 cancer treatments.

These products lead to longer lives for people all over the world. Consider HIV/AIDS: Back in the 1980s, a diagnosis was a death sentence. Today, antiretroviral cocktails keep patients living for decades. There's no way firms would have plowed billions into researching and developing these therapies without strong patent protections.

Patent protections are not the reason poor patients in the developing world can't access breakthrough medications. Among the 375 drugs the World Health Organization has deemed essential, just 25 are still patented.

Cost isn't a problem either. Poor patients pay just 6 percent of the U.S. retail price for 350 off-patent drugs.

The U.N.'s war on IP rights ignores the real barrier to drug access: insufficient medical infrastructure.

For instance, many developing countries suffer from a severe shortage of health care professionals, particularly in rural areas. In Nicaragua, 50 percent of health personnel work in the country's capital, yet only 20 percent of the country's population lives there.

The U.N. needs to ditch its fixation on intellectual property rights and instead focus on the real problems of the developing world. Undermining IP protections would deter drug development and ultimately deprive needy patients of lifesaving treatments.

Peter J. Pitts, a former FDA associate commissioner, is president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

Blog Roll

Alliance for Patient Access Alternative Health Practice
Better Health
Biotech Blog
CA Medicine man
Cafe Pharma
Campaign for Modern Medicines
Carlat Psychiatry Blog
Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry: A Closer Look
Conservative's Forum
Club For Growth
Diabetes Mine
Disruptive Women
Doctors For Patient Care
Dr. Gov
Drug Channels
DTC Perspectives
Envisioning 2.0
FDA Law Blog
Fierce Pharma
Fresh Air Fund
Furious Seasons
Gel Health News
Hands Off My Health
Health Business Blog
Health Care BS
Health Care for All
Healthy Skepticism
Hooked: Ethics, Medicine, and Pharma
Hugh Hewitt
In the Pipeline
In Vivo
Internet Drug News
Jaz'd Healthcare
Jaz'd Pharmaceutical Industry
Jim Edwards' NRx
Kaus Files
Laffer Health Care Report
Little Green Footballs
Med Buzz
Media Research Center
More than Medicine
National Review
Neuroethics & Law
Nurses For Reform
Nurses For Reform Blog
Opinion Journal
Orange Book
Peter Rost
Pharm Aid
Pharma Blog Review
Pharma Blogsphere
Pharma Marketing Blog
Pharmacology Corner
Pharmaceutical Business Review
Piper Report
Prescription for a Cure
Public Plan Facts
Real Clear Politics
Shark Report
Shearlings Got Plowed
Taking Back America
Terra Sigillata
The Cycle
The Catalyst
The Lonely Conservative
Town Hall
Washington Monthly
World of DTC Marketing
WSJ Health Blog