Patent talks lift fear of drugs price rise
Human rights and public health experts fear a new trade agreement being negotiated between Australia, the United States and seven other countries will pander to pharmaceutical companies and reduce access to affordable medicine.
The Public Health Association and Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network say proposals being debated at next week's Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations in Chicago will increase the rights of pharmaceutical companies and decrease those of the consumer.
Under leaked US proposals, pharmaceutical companies will be able to create more patents and extend the period of data exclusivity of drugs, delaying the entry of cheaper, generic drugs onto the market.
''A patent on a medicine means the manufacturer has a monopoly of price rights and can charge whatever they like,'' convener of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network Patricia Ranald said.
Dr Ranald said current patent laws were adequate and allowed pharmaceutical companies to charge monopoly prices for drugs for 20 years.
''The justification for a patent is that the drug company spends time on research and development and needs to recoup their money,'' she said.
''They are arguing that there is a new generation of drugs which are much more medically effective but take much longer to research, so they need a longer patent time. This effectively means it delays the time in which the generic drug can come on to the market because the manufacturers can't get access to the data to produce the drugs.''
Other US proposals could result in the removal of the public's right to object to new patents and the patenting of medical procedures.
Dr Ranald said patenting medical procedures would impose huge costs on hospitals.
Deborah Gleeson, from the Public Health Association of Australia, said the US proposals would increase the cost of drugs for consumers and jeopardise the sustainability of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. ''Pharmaceutical companies have a lot of power because they have so many resources, and they are very used to lobbying government and are a big part of the economy in the US,'' she said.
''The US Government is always going to listen to their concerns and want to support that industry.''
A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said the Government would not accept provisions in the agreement that limited its ability to operate the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
''The Government is aware of the concerns of the Public Health Association of Australia and other stakeholders about proposals relating to patents in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations.''
The spokesperson said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had met the Public Health Association of Australia to discuss their concerns about ''pharmaceutical issues'' in the trade agreement.