Improving patient access to expensive drugs, paving the way for entry of their cheaper generic equivalents, post patent expiry, and avoiding evergreening, is assuming priority a priority focus area in many countries. The United States is no exception, in this area. The Keynote Address of Scott Gottlieb, Commissioner of Food and Drug at the 2018 Food and Drug Law Institute Annual Conference inWashington, DC by, on May 3, 2018, confirms this. Where, in sharp contrast with what the MNC Pharma players and their trade associations propagated, the US-FDA commissioner himself admitted by saying, “Let’s face it. Right now, we don’t have a truly free market when it comes to drug pricing, and in too many cases, that’s driving prices to unaffordable levels for some patients.”
Does US talk differently outside the country?
At least, it appears so to many. For example, in April 2018, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released its 2018 Special 301 Report. In this exercise, the USPTO names the country’s trading partners for not adequately protecting and enforcing Intellectual Property (IP) rights or otherwise deny market access to U.S. innovators that rely on the protection of their IP rights.’ Accordingly, U.S. trading partners are asked to address IP-related challenges, with a special focus on the countries identified on the Watch List (WL) and Priority Watch List (PWL).
In 2018, just as the past years, India continues to feature, along with 11 other countries, on the PWL, for the so called longstanding challenges in its IP framework and lack of sufficient measurable improvements that have negatively affected U.S. right holders over the past year.
From Patient access to affordable drugs to Market access for Expensive Drugs:
Curiously, the USTR Report highlights its concerns not just related to IP, but also on market access barriers for patented drugs and medical devices, irrespective of a country’s socioeconomic compulsion. Nevertheless, comparing it to what the US-FDA Commissioner articulated above, one gets an impression, while the US priority is improving patient access to affordable drugs for Americans, it changes to supporting MNC pharma to improve market access for expensive patented drugs, outside its shores.
Insisting others to improve global IP Index while the same for the US slides:
In the context of the 2018 report, the U.S. Trade Representative, reportedly said, “the ideas and creativity of American entrepreneurs’ fuel economic growth and employ millions of hardworking Americans.” However, on a closer look at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s annual Global IP Index for 2018, a contrasting fact surfaces, quite clearly. It shows, America, which once was at the very top of the overall IP Index score, is no longer so – in 2018, the world rank of the US in offering patent protection to innovators, dropped to 12thposition from its 10thglobal ranking in 2017. Does it mean, what the US is asking its trading partners to follow, it is unable to hold its own ground against similar parameters, any longer.
Should IP laws ignore country’s socioeconomic reality?
MNC Pharma often articulated, it doesn’t generally fall within its areas of concern, and is the Government responsibility. However, an affirmative answer, echoes from many independent sources on this issue. No wonder, some astute and credible voices, such as an article titled “U.S. IP Policy Spins Out of Control in the 2018 Special 301 Report”, published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on May 01, 2018, termed 2018 Special 301 Report – ‘A Tired, Repetitive Report.’ It reiterates in no ambiguous term: ‘The report maintains the line that there is only one adequate and effective level of IP protection and enforcement that every country should adhere to, regardless of its social and economic circumstances or its international legal obligations.
The ever-expanding MNC Pharma list of concerns on Indian IP laws:
The areas of MNC Pharma concern, related to Indian IP laws, continues to grow even in 2018. The letter dated February 8, 2018 of the Intellectual Property Owners Association, Washington, DC to the USTR, makes these areas rather clear. I shall quote below some major pharma related ones, from this ever-expanding list:
- Additional Patentability Criteria – section 3 (d): The law makes it difficult for them to secure patent protection for certain types of pharma inventions.
- TADF (Technology Acquisition and Development Fund)is empowered to request Compulsory Licensing (CL) from the Government:Section 4.4 of India’s National Manufacturing Policy discusses the use of CL to help domestic companies access the latest patented green technology.This helps in situations when a patent holder is unwilling to license, either at all or “at reasonable rates,” or when an invention is not being “worked” within India.
- India’s National Competition Policyrequires IP owners to grant access to “essential facilities” on “agreed and nondiscriminatory terms” without reservation. They are not comfortable with it.
- Regulatory Data Protection: The Indian Regulatory Authority relies on test data submitted by originators to another country when granting marketing approval to follow-on pharma products. It discourages them to develop new medicines that could meet unmet medical needs.
- Requirement of local working of patents: The Controller of Patents is empowered to require patent holders and any licensees to provide details on how the invention is being worked in India. Statements of the Working, (Form 27),must be provided annually.Failure to provide the requested information is punishable by fine or imprisonment. It makes pharma patent holders facing the risk of CL, if they fail to “work” their inventions in India within three years of the respective patent grant.
- Disclosure of Foreign Filings: Section 8 of India’s Patent Act requires disclosure and regular updates on foreign applications that are substantially “the same or substantially the same invention.” They feel it is irrelevant today.
Pharma MNCs’ self-serving tirade is insensitive to Indian patient interest:
Continuing its tirade against some developed and developing countries, such as India, the US drug manufacturers lobby group – Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has urged the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) to take immediate action to address serious market access and intellectual property (IP) barriers in 19 overseas markets, including India, reports reported The Pharma Letter on February 28, 2018. It will be interesting to watch and note the level active and passive participation of India based stakeholders of this powerful US lobby group, as well.
Government of India holds its ground… but the saga continues:
India Government’s stand in this regard, including 2018 Special 301 Report, has been well articulated in its report released on January 24, 2018, titled “Intellectual Property Rights Regime in India – An Overview”, released by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion Ministry of Commerce and Industry (DIPP). The paper also includes asummary of some of the main recommendations, as captured in the September 2016 Report of the High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines, constituted by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon of the United Nations in November 2015. Some of these observations are as follows:
- WTO members must make full use of the TRIPS flexibilities as confirmed by the Doha Declaration to promote access to health technologies when necessary.
- WTO members should make full use of the policy space available in Article 27 of the TRIPS agreement by adopting and applying rigorous definitions of invention and patentability that are in the interests of public health of the country and its inhabitants. This includes amending laws to curtail the evergreening of patents and awarding patents only when genuine innovation has occurred.
- Governments should adopt and implement legislation that facilitates the issuance of Compulsory Licenses (CL). The use of CL should be based on the provisions found in the Doha Declaration and the grounds for the issuance left to the discretion of the governments.
- WTO members should revise the paragraph 6 decision in order to find a solution that enables a swift and expedient export of pharmaceutical products produced under compulsory license.
- Governments and the private sector must refrain from explicit or implicit threats, tactics or strategies that undermine the right of WTO Members to use TRIPS flexibilities.
- Governments engaged in bilateral and regional trade and investment treaties should ensure that these agreements do not include provisions that interfere with their obligations to fulfill the rights to health.
The DIPP report includes two important quotes, among several others, as follows:
Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize for Economics (2001) – an American Citizen:
- “If patent rights are too strong and maintained for too long, they prevent access to knowledge, the most important input in the innovation process. In the US, there is growing recognition that the balance has been too far tilted towards patent protection in general (not just in medicine).”
- “Greater IP protection for medicines would, we fear, limit access to life-saving drugs and seriously undermine the very capable indigenous generics industry that has been critical for people’s well-being in not only India but other developing countries as well”.
Bernie Sanders, an American Citizen and Senior U.S. Senator:
- “Access to health care is a human right, and that includes access to safe and affordable prescription drugs. It is time to enact prescription drug policies that work for everyone, not just the CEOs of the pharmaceutical industry.”
- “Healthcare must be recognized as a right, not a privilege. Every man, woman and child in our country should be able to access the health care they need regardless of their income.”
Why is then this orchestrated moaning and accompanying pressure for making Indian IP laws more stringent, which apparently continues under the façade of ‘innovation at risk’, which isn’t so – in any case. But, cleverly marketed high priced ‘me too’ drugs with molecular tweaking do impact patient access. So is the practice of delaying off-patent generic drugs entry, surreptitiously. Instead, why not encourage Voluntary Licensing (VL) of patented drugs against a mutually agreed fee, for achieving greater market access to the developing countries, like India?
Whatever intense advocacy is done by the vested interests to change Indian patent laws in favor of MNC pharma, the intense efforts so far, I reckon, have been akin to running on a treadmill – without moving an inch from where they were, since and even prior to 2005. The moaning of MNC Pharma on the Indian IP ecosystem, as I see it, will continue, as no Indian Government will wish to take any risk in this area. It appears irreversible and is likely to remain so, for a long time to come. The time demands from all concerned to be part of the solution, and not continue to be a part of the problem, especially by trying to tamper with the IP ecosystem of the country.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.