Thursday, July 04, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #115 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: White House ranks BigPharma over world health

Now for one of our regular weekly features, the Outrage of the Week.

The Obama administration has finally decided to take on the pharmaceutical industry.

The generic pharmaceutical industry.

In India.

The White House and members of Congress are pressuring India to change its patent laws for the benefit of US drug companies.

Public health experts say that inexpensive drugs from India are essential to providing life-saving treatments around the world for a number of conditions and diseases. I'll give you three examples:

- About 98 percent of the drugs purchased by the international AIDS relief program begun under George Bush's administration are generics from India. They cost $1 a day, or $365 a year. The non-generic form, produced by Pfizer, costs about $10,000 per person per year, close to 30 times as much.

- Last year, India permitted a generic manufacturer to produce a cheaper version of a cancer drug patented by Bayer. Bayer was charging $5,000 a month for the drug, while only servicing about 2 percent of the population that needed it. The generic version cost $157 a month, so Bayer's version cost 32 times more.

- More recently, Novartis tried to extend its patent in India on a leukemia drug called Gleevec just by making a pill version of the same medication. In January, India's Supreme Court said no, that's not a legitimate innovation. Gleevec costs upwards of $75,000 a year in the US. In India, where the annual per capita income is about $1,400, Novartis was charging about $31,000 a year for the medication. The generic version costs around $2,100, about 1/15 as much.

The bottom line is that low-cost generics from India have dramatically lowered medical costs in developing countries. But by that very same fact they have also cut into the profits of Pfizer and Bayer and Novartis and other US and European drug companies. And we can't have that!

What's more, they have a deep fear that other nations might get ideas, that other nations may follow India's example, something industry supporters actually call "contagion," as if it was a sickness, which I suppose to them, it is.

And given the choice between providing succor for the poor and sick around the world and succor for giant corporations in the industrialized West, there simply is no competition.

So we've had the US Patent and Trademark Office and the Office of the US Trade Representative pressuring the Indian government on its patent standards and Secretary of State John Kerry taking a trip to India where, a department PR flack said, Kerry "discussed a number of economic and trade issues with Indian officials, including ongoing issues in the pharmaceutical sector."

Last week, a bipartisan group of 170 House lawmakers sent a letter to Kerry and Barack Obama grousing about India's patent system, followed by a House hearing on June 27 that spent most of its time soaking up the whining of one Roy Waldron, the Chief Intellectual Property Officer of Pfizer and happily nodding away as he bizarrely claimed that imposing US-style intellectual property policies on India - that is, essentially giving monopoly control of India's medication supply to Euro-American drug companies - would, and yes he said this, help develop a more robust and innovative medical system there. 

All this despite the fact that according to Nirupama Rao, India's ambassador to the United States, more than 85 per cent of all the patents granted in India for pharmaceutical inventions between 2005 and 2011 were owned by foreign companies. But that, apparently, is not enough.

Two weeks ago, I told you how the big pharmaceutical corporations have become notorious for manipulating the patent laws to keep their greedy hands in our pockets. Patents on drugs usually last for 20 years but BigPharma has often succeeded in getting patents renewed by claiming a "new use" for an existing drug (thus extending the monopoly) or in getting a secondary patent for drug based on nothing more than a minor reformulation or a change in delivery, say from an injection to a pill. The practice is known as "evergreening," and is opposed by the World Health Organization precisely because of it's impact on the availability of medicine to the poor of the world.

The blunt fact is, people around the world are dying unnecessarily because of BigPhama's greed, greed embraced, endorsed, and urged by Congress and Obama. And that cannot be anything but a gross moral outrage.


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