O’Neill Institute highlights “new frontier” for access to medicines

In a recent blog post, our colleagues at The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University report on a “new frontier” for the access to medicines movement, which follows the expanding prevalence of NCDs in middle- to low- income countries. They contend that effective treatment must prioritize “patients over patents”:

Ensuring access to medicines requires a two-pronged approach.  First, medicines must be invented and developed.  For conditions that widely affect both the rich and poor, this presents little problem.  Because those in the developed world can afford to pay large sums for these medicines, pharmaceutical companies have a strong financial incentive to develop treatments.  However, where diseases affect primarily those living in poverty (e.g., schistosomiasis), or where these populations need different formulations from those used in developed countries (e.g., heat-stable versions of pediatric drugs), companies have little incentive to develop medicines—it makes little economic sense to create a product for a population that has no money to pay for it.  Second, those drugs that are developed must be available at an affordable cost, with sufficient safeguards for quality, and against the backdrop of adequate distribution networks.

The campaign for access to medicines grew up alongside HIV/AIDS.  When the first antiretroviral treatment, AZT, came to market in 1989, it cost a staggering $8,000 per year, putting the patented drug out of reach for many Americans and Europeans, along with virtually all of the rest of the world.  The World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which required all member countries to guarantee patent protection for medicines, further galvanized activists.  The movement has been largely successful in reducing the cost of HIV/AIDS medicines, largely by promoting generic competition.  AZT’s price, for instance, has plummeted to just $70 per year.

Read the rest of the blog post here.

Source: D. Hougendobler, “A new frontier: The access to medicines movement and NCDs,” The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law Blog (August 8, 2013). Available at http://www.oneillinstituteblog.org/a-new-frontier-the-access-to-medicines-movement-and-ncds/.

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