Nipawin -Monday, November 5, 2001 - by: Mario deSantis


"If we believe in free trade, it makes no sense to give long-term patent protections to pharmaceuticals. In reality, prescription drugs are a social good."--Dean Baker, Economist




"The good of the people is the greatest law."
--Marcus T. Cicero, Roman Orator




There is no doubt that the high price of drugs must be attributed to the oligopolistic position of pharmaceutical corporations and to the granting of long term patent protection. The poor nations are aggrieved for the reason that the richer countries are the beneficiaries of the patent protection, that the drug prices are relatively much higher with respect to people's income, and that the profit motive of the corporations skews their research towards the figuring out how to help rich people be more sexually potent, or look young forever, or have tall children.




This is not the whole story as the U.S. corporations have their research subsidized by more than 50% by the National Institutes of Health, universities, charities and other agencies. More than two third of these researches are directed not toward breakthroughs to better our lives but toward finding ways around the lucrative patents of competitors so as to produce alternative drugs and enjoy a slice of the market.




Additional expenses go into direct marketing costs at the tune of 55% of the companies' research and on top of this wastes economist Dean Baker has observed that
"monopoly profits are an enormous incentive for companies to overstate the benefits and understate the risks of the newest wonder drugs."
The defence of the patent protections are further maintained in Washington where the pharmaceutical industry has the best oiled lobby and many friends, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who is former chief executive of the drug maker G. D. Searle.




By the way, both Health Canada and the U.S. Department of Health and Services threatened to issue a compulsory license for the production of generic Cipro unless the patent holder Bayer would cut the price for the drug, and as a consequence I don't see why developing countries couldn't have done the same as they experienced public health emergencies such as the AIDS epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa.




So, this protection of intellectual rights for pharmaceutical corporations has little to do with helping the well being of people and the recouping of research cost, it is again the same story of having corporations and politicians helping themselves at the expense of people at large.
  Patent Medicine, by Dean Baker, January 29, 2001, The American Prospect
  The Price Isn't Right, by Merrill Goozner, September 11, 2000, The American Prospect
  A Muscular Lobby Tries to Shape Nation's Bioterror Plan, by Leslie Wayne and Melody Petersen, New York Times November 4, 2001
  Fourth Ministerial Conference in Doha Developing countries seek amendment to WTO drug patent guidelines, by Amol Sharma, Earth Times News Service, November 3, 2001
  An overview of the AIDS epidemic. United Nations Special Session on HIV/AIDS, 25-27 June 2001