Parliamentary committee recommends Brazil acts to improve access to medicines and medical innovation
Brasilia/Rio de Janeiro, 9 October 2013 — Brazil has joined a growing list of middle-income countries taking action in tackling the high cost of medicines, with the launch today of a parliamentary committee report that recommends reforming Brazil’s patent law and introducing new models of innovation. International medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) welcomed the high-level report, ‘Brazil’s Patent Reform: innovation towards national competitiveness’, saying it should spur the Brazilian Parliament to support legislation that would reform Brazil’s patent law to improve access to affordable medicines.
“Brazil has historically shown leadership in promoting and defending access to affordable medicines, and with newer medicines becoming increasingly unaffordable, this is even more important today,” said Susana de Deus, Executive Director of MSF Brazil. “The patent law reform process in Brazil can be seen as part of an international momentum where middle-income countries are facing unaffordable prices for medicines and increasingly taking measures to overcome the patents that price drugs out of reach.”
In April, India’s Supreme Court upheld an important public-health provision reaffirming the country’s right to establish its own criteria to analyse patents. Last month in South Africa, a public consultation process opened on the government’s draft plan to improve and reform the patent law there, which currently sees the country paying the highest prices in the region because of abusive patenting practices. MSF welcomes and encourages such efforts from countries, in a bid to lower the cost of medicines.
Affordable, quality generic medicines are a critical component of treatment programs. About 80% of the HIV medicines that MSF uses are generics, and MSF routinely relies on generic drugs to treat TB, malaria, and a wide range of infectious diseases. The first generation of HIV drugs have come down in price by 99 percent over the last decade, from U.S.$10,000 per person per year in 2000 to roughly $120 today, thanks to generic production in India, Brazil and Thailand, where these drugs were not patented.
Today, newer drugs are being patented in these countries, which pose new challenges to the cost of treatment. For example, darunavir/ritonavir – just two drugs needed in a four-drug cocktail for salvage treatment – is priced at $4,752 per person per year in Brazil, while the price of the standard first-line regimen costs $647. Given the growing number of people in need of newer drugs, governments will need to explore strategies to ensure sustainability of national programs. Public health-oriented patent laws can ensure improved competition and price reductions, which can have benefits globally upon prices and access, including for service providers like MSF.
The report, released today by the Centre for Strategic Studies and Debates (CEDES) at the Brazilian House of Representatives, gives strong support for reforming the patent law in order to implement a range of public health safeguards, in line with international trade rules, which allow countries to enable generic competition and bring down drug prices. The reforms include stricter rules for what deserves a patent, allowing a more robust patent opposition system to curb frivolous patenting practices by drug companies, and taking proactive steps to protect access to medicines, including the right to issue government-use compulsory licences to import or produce generic versions of patented medicines. These suggested reforms have already been implemented in India, which has limited abuse of the patent system by pharmaceutical companies, thereby dramatically reducing medicine prices for people across the developing world.
“This report reaffirms Brazil’s right to implement public health safeguards in its national laws” said Susana de Deus. “If the reforms proposed by Brazilian legislators are approved and implemented, it can encourage other countries to take action against the rising cost of medicines and consider reforming their patent laws.”
The report also recommends Brazil considers new and alternative models of medical innovation. Today’s research and development (R&D) system is overwhelmingly dependent on patent monopolies to stimulate and finance innovation. This has two critical flaws: new medicines, protected by patents, are unaffordable; and the essential health needs of patients go unaddressed when potential commercial rewards are insufficient. By ‘delinking’ the cost of research from the final price of a product, new incentive models, such as prizes, can promote both innovation and affordable access to medicines, ensuring that new drugs and medical tools for unmet health needs are developed without the high price tags attached.
“The shortcomings with today’s patent system are evident, and Brazil is uniquely placed to play a role in changing the situation,” said Felipe Carvalho, MSF Access Campaign Adviser in Brazil. “Brazil could use its diplomatic clout to weigh in on ongoing intergovernmental processes at the World Health Organization that are currently exploring alternative models of innovation, and harness its technical expertise to develop, support or finance R&D projects that could meet critical unmet health needs for patients in Brazil and around the world. This is the vision we are looking for from the Brazilian government.”