The U.N High Level Panel on Access to Medicines and the Role of Pharmaceuticals in
Improving Health Outcomes
In a discussion on access to medicines, it’s easy to forget the case for intellectual property. We asked Emily Williams to set out the arguments you would hear from industry.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has convened a High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines. The panel is expected to report in June of 2016. At the centre of this discussion is the effect on access is intellectual property protection and the role it plays on the development, manufacturing, and use of pharmaceuticals. Concerns focus both on the provision of intellectual property protection and the timescales for which such protection lasts. Many of these concerns are the focus of a paper authored by Dr. Usman Khan, Stephen Kreutzer, Chris Thomas , Dr. Panos Kanavos and Prof. David Taylor in 2013: “Wealth, Health and International Trade in the 21st Century”
Other key facts, which demonstrate why intellectual property rights are important in the context of effective new medicines development, include:
- Research-based pharmaceutical manufacturers today spend some 15–20 percent of their gross turnovers on research and development. Although they are the result of highly advanced research and extensive safety testing, many new medicines, other than biologic medicines are, once proven and licensed normally, relatively easy to copy.
- Much of the value of a medicine lies in the knowledge on the basis of which its use has been authorized, rather than the cost of its physical ingredients. Once again, this means that without appropriate intellectual-property law, it would never be viable for private investors to fund pharmaceutical research, because lower-cost copyists would be in a position to undercut the legitimate prices of innovators even while still generating supra-normal profits.