A bit of lateral thinking on access to medicines

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net

In an ideal world, all people should have access to all important medicines, Thomas Pogge, chair of comparative Research P(CROP), at Yale University, told the key event on Global Change and Social Transformation at the forum yesterday.

R&D should target medicines that can make the greatest difference to human health and the money spent on medicines should be ploughed back into R&D.

What we have now is a system in which the poorest people can’t access life-saving medicine because of high prices based on return of profits; little R&D geared towards medicines for the poor, such as neglected diseases; and vast amounts of money are spent on advertising, instead of further R&D, Pogge said.

The patent regime set out in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), in which countries had to sign up to a Western model of intellectual property rights, is partly to blame he said.

But, he offered a solution: a Health Impact Fund (HIF). This fund could work alongside the TRIPS agreement and allow innovators and companies to earn money even on drugs that would not make a a profit through sales.

The idea is that pharma companies holding patents could register their products with the HIF and then sell them globally at production costs.

The HIF would then evaluate the health impact of registered drugs annually, and distribute payments from the fund – coming from governments and donors – to firms based on the impact of each drug. So the more lives your drug saves the bigger amount of money you would get from the fund.

The HIF would foster the development of new high-impact medicines, and the incentives would be greatest for treatments of diseases concentrated among the poor.

“This system … could also work in other areas, for example in key new technologies and agriculture,” Pogge concluded.

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This blog post is part of our Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development blog which takes place 11-15 June 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.

One Response to A bit of lateral thinking on access to medicines

  1. jhinahara says:

    Pogge’s idea is an interesting one – especially the ability of innovators to choose whether or not to enter the agreement. Blockbuster drugs, though, would be unlikely to enter the system – Lipitor, before its patent expiry, was reaping in up nearly $13 billion each year. I’ve written a post about the possibility of a similar fund for the development of HIV/AIDS drugs in the United States. Do you think that this is a possibility in the future?

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