India’s Dangerous Precedent

By Miti Sathe (originally posted on Free Enterprise)

12.7 million people were diagnosed with cancer in 2008, and that number is expected to rise to 22.2 million by 2030. The imperative to find a cure for cancer and other devastating diseases couldn’t be clearer. But the path forward was muddied by India’s Supreme Court decision this week.

By denying patent rights to a drug which is afforded the same protections in 40 other countries including the U.S., Russia and China, the larger message to researchers and investors is that what we have now is good enough. The concern for patients—now and in the future—is that we are willing to put expediency over the long-term goal of a cure.

Intellectual property rights, like patents, are necessary for industries that incur significant upfront costs. In no industry is this more prevalent than with pharmaceuticals, which invest on average $1.3 billion and require 10-15 years of trials, research, and development before a single treatment can even be brought to market. To quote The West Wing, “The second pill cost them four cents. The first pill cost them $400 million.”

But the issue goes well beyond the cost of the first pill. The Indian court provided rubber-stamp approval for the country’s generics sector to copy the drug for sale, forcing companies that are leading in medical advancement to reconsider their efforts. If the incentive for research is removed, it’s a disservice to patients and the future of innovation.

This unease will go far beyond India’s borders. Patients from the U.S. to Ghana could lose access to future treatments, cures, or medicines given the uncertainty of the investment climate, while pharmaceutical companies from Germany to Japan must reassess which diseases, cancers, and epidemics they can viably pursue to treat.

For patients enduring chemo and other painful treatments to extend their lives just a little more, hoping that a cure is just around the corner, pulling back on research is just not an option. We need to find a way to protect critical innovation globally, and forge ahead for the good of patients, today and tomorrow.

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