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Compulsory licensing

May 11, 2007

What is more important?: The ability of a person to get the drugs he or she needs to survive today, or the ability of an innovative drug company to survive and create new and innovative drugs for tomorrow.  The WTO and the TRIPS agreement have tried to regulate and balance these two interests. TRIPS requires that drug product patents must be respected by all the member countries of the WTO. Most believe that the pharmaceutical companies won the TRIPS negotiations.

Thailand and Brazil are now fighting back. The TRIPS agreement provides that in cases of urgent or emergent needs a “compulsory license” can be obtained such that generic manufactuers will be allowed to manufacture drugs to meet the needs of the urgent or emergent conditions. The US considered using the compulsory license provision during the anthrax scare. Thailand and Brazil are now saying that the AIDS crisis qualifies as an urgent or emergent need. Now, under these compulsary licenses, generic manufacturers in Brazil and Thailand can make generic versions of the AIDS drugs to treat people in their countries. Obviously, without the cost of marketing or innovation these generic drugs will be cheaper.

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations believes that compulsory licensing is a step in the wrong direction. Obviously, Brazil and Thailand disagree. Personally, I havent been able to satisfactorily resolve this yet.

I have the unique perspective of seeing the situation from the eyes of a consumer of the pharma industry, a healthcare provider (I am a pharmacist) an IP attorney, and someone who has owned a pharma company. It is the immortal question: Is taking the life of an innocent person today worth saving the lives of a 1000 other innocent people tomorrow?

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