America has been fighting to lower the cost of health care. But the TPP would make the introduction of generic drugs more difficult, and thus raise the price of medicines. In the poorest countries, this is not just about moving money into corporate coffers: thousands would die unnecessarily. Of course, those who do research have to be compensated. That's why we have a patent system. But the patent system is supposed to carefully balance the benefits of intellectual protection with another worthy goal: making access to knowledge more available. I've written before about how the system has been abused by those seeking patents for the genes that predispose women to breast cancer. The Supreme Court ended up rejecting those patents, but not before many women suffered unnecessarily. Trade agreements provide even more opportunities for patent abuse.
To date, most of the details of the proposed trade agreements have been kept secret, but as noted on the PLoS Medicine blog in December, 2013, by Reshma Ramachandran and David Carroll,
Last month, Wikileaks posted the complete Intellectual Property (IP) Chapter of the secretly-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) confirming public health advocates' worst fears of the agreement's impact on patients worldwide.
The Wikileaks posted text revealed that the USTR and Obama Administration have decided to aggressively prioritize the interests of multinational pharmaceutical and medical companies over patients worldwide and at home. In fact, according to emails submitted to Intellectual Property-Watch under the Freedom of Information Act, the USTR has actively solicited the input of industry groups, giving them special access to the negotiating text while consumer and health groups have had to resort to requesting special meetings with negotiators.
Indeed, the recently leaked TPP chapter reflect these corporate interests as evidenced by the still-included provisions. In the text,the USTR has proposed a number of provisions that will further strengthen patents and data exclusivity for pharmaceuticals. Such provisions will bar the entry of generic competition into the market allowing for brand-name drug companies to retain their monopoly market and set drug prices at exorbitantly high prices. These provisions include:
- Lowering patent standards allowing for "evergreening" or the granting of patents for newer forms of existing medicines including new formulations or minor modifications even in the absence of a therapeutic benefit
- Mandating that surgical, therapeutic, and diagnostic methods must be patented making medical practitioners in TPP member states liable for infringement and restricting their choices for treatment
- Imposing data exclusivity on all pharmaceuticals, including biologics with the minimum period for this class to be set at 12 years (despite the fact that the White House is publicly in favor of a 7 year data exclusivity period and the FTC has stated that there is no need for any data exclusivity period at all) thereby not allowing drug safety regulators from accessing clinical data to grant market approval for generic and biosimilar drugs
- Adjusting patent term periods to account for "unreasonable delays" including patent prosecution periods ranging from two years to more than four years extra further delaying generic drug entry into the market
- Adjusting patent term periods for regulatory approval periods allowing for patent extensions for both new pharmaceutical products as well as methods for producing or using new pharmaceutical products halting any potential innovation
- Linking patent status and drug marketing approval causing drug regulatory authorities to take on the additional task of early patent enforcement, allowing for bogus patents to be a barrier to generic drug registration Such proposals go beyond current U.S. and international law including the World Trade Organization's Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.
Additionally, the TPP has the potential to jeopardize millions of lives in the participating countries by driving up the costs of medicines significantly. Even in the United States, there has been a public outcry from physicians regarding the high cost of medicines. Earlier this year, over 100 oncologists came together to write a perspective piece in the journal Blood calling the prices of brand-name cancer drugs "astronomical, unsustainable, and perhaps even immoral." The United States health care system has in fact greatly benefited from the entry of generic competition. On May 9, IMS Health released a report entitled Declining Medicine Use and Costs: For Better or Worse?, which found that many Americans had forsaken much needed doctor visits, medicines, and other treatments as they struggled to afford health care. In light of this, it is appalling that U.S. negotiators would continue to push provisions that would further exacerbate the cost burden of healthcare for patients not only abroad, but at home.
Public Citizen particularly criticized the provision for patenting procedures,