No Patents = No Drugs or Medical Devices | Citizens Against Government Waste

No Patents = No Drugs or Medical Devices

The WasteWatcher

This is not the time to promote a radical agenda to take advantage of the coronavirus crisis, but unfortunately Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors without Borders, called for “no patents or profiteering on drugs, tests, or vaccines used in the COVID-19 pandemic,” asking governments to “suspend and override patents and to take other measures, such as price controls, to ensure availability, reduce prices, and save more lives from this disease caused by a novel coronavirus.”  MSF is an international humanitarian organization that provides life-saving medical care and aid to approximately 60 countries around the world.  While their lifesaving work is to be commended, this request, which was made on Friday, March 27, 2020, is a bad idea and risks the future development of life-saving drugs.

While MSF may understand how to provide healthcare, they do not understand the importance of patents in the research and development necessary to create medicine and other complex medical supplies.  Doctors without Borders in the United States received approximately $372 million through private donations in 2017, they refuse “contributions from corporations or industries whose core activities may be in direct conflict with – or  jeopardize – the goals of our medical humanitarian work, or in any way limit Doctors Without Borders' ability to provide humanitarian assistance.”  That is too bad because pharmaceutical and medical devices companies give away millions of dollars in product donations every year.

According to MSF, four countries already took steps to override patents by issuing compulsory licensing for COVID-19 medicines, vaccines, and other medical products:  Canada, Chili, Ecuador, and Germany.  It’s no surprise that Canada, Chili, and Ecuador signed the pledge, they have nothing to lose.  Canada spends little on drug R&D, while Chili and Ecuador do not even register.  While Germany is considered one of the leaders in Europe for biopharmaceutical research, supporting policies like compulsory licensing shows why Europe lost its edge years ago.

European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations Director General Nathalie Moll wrote in the federation’s January 3 blog, “Would the Last Pharmaceutical Investor in Europe Please Turn the Lights Out,” that the coronavirus epidemic points to the need for an infrastructure and policy environment that supports medical research in Europe.  She went on to say, “The sobering reality is that Europe has lost its place as the world’s leading driver of medical innovation.  Today, 47% of global new treatments are of US origin compared to just 25% emanating from Europe (2014-2018).  It represents a complete reversal of the situation just 25 years ago.”

While she said there are many reasons for the downward trend, to reverse it will require “a regulatory framework that is stable yet fast, effective and globally competitive.  It has to include an IP framework that protects investment in medical research and guarantees at least parity with competitor regions such as the US ...”

It takes billions of dollars to find treatments, discover cures, and create diagnostic tests for a disease.  Healthcare companies are currently focused like a laser beam on developing new products for COVID-19.  If patents are stolen through compulsory licensing for these products, there will be fewer companies that will step up and spend millions of dollars to address the need for the next epidemic.

MSF is not the only group thoughtlessly calling for eliminating intellectual property (IP) rights.  The Open COVID Pledge  is a “group of scientists, lawyers, entrepreneurs and individuals working to promote the removal of obstacles involving intellectual property in the fight against COVID-19” asking others to sign a pledge to temporarily give up their IP so others can copy it.  The pledge provides no liability protection if a company that utilizes another company’s IP makes a faulty product that seriously hurts or kills someone.  The signatories are lawyers and university professors that have little to lose since they do not run any pharmaceutical firms or medical device companies responsible for making sure their products are safe and effective and employ thousands of employees.

It gets worse.  The March 27 STAT reports, “Over the past two days, more than 30 members of the European Parliament and dozens of advocacy groups separately urged the European Commission to avoid granting monopolies that might allow manufacturers to eventually charge prices for medicines, vaccines, or diagnostics that would be out of reach for poorer populations around the world.”

Pharmaceutical and medical device companies are already ramping up production, donating supplies, and working with governments to fight the coronavirus.  Medical research and development do not come cheap or without enormous financial risk.  Denying companies the ability to recoup their expenses for new discoveries, pay for the research performed on products that unfortunately in the end did not work, and employing thousands of researchers for the next new innovation will come to a halt if patents and property rights are denied.

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