A bit of lateral thinking on access to medicines

June 12, 2012

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.

Have we left pharma out in the cold?

November 19, 2008

The contentious topic of the role in industry in research to strengthen health systems was the hot topic at this morning’s plenary session.

Bamako 2008 was billed as an opportunity for policymakers, researchers, industry and civil society organisations to get together for discussion, but representatives of pharmaceutical companies have been in short supply, as both speakers and participants.

And Merck’s Mark Feinberg may have wished he’d stayed away. His assertion that pharmaceutical and other sectors need to find more creative ways to collaborate and partner, and a reference to the sometimes adversarial nature of the relationship between such sectors was met with questions about the trustworthiness of big pharma.

Feinberg added that pharmaceutical companies have an important role to play in the research for health dialogue and presented numerous examples of where Merck has made a big difference by providing free or cheap drugs, while maintaining that the pharma industry has a very specific role to play.

But it was Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, who was more forceful. “Blind attack [of pharmaceutical companies] has no value,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s pharmaceutical companies that make drugs, not academics.”

A representative of the Global Forum for Health Research stated that within a year it will have provided a platform on which researchers, industry and civil society can communicate.

Katherine Nightingale, SciDev.Net

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