February 26, 2016

UN High Level Panel on Access to Medicines

If a medical researcher has a great idea, but no one’s around to invest in it, does it make a cure?

This classic ‘tree falling in the woods’ scenario sets the scene for a very important dialogue underway in the United Nations (UN) today with the creation of the UN’s High Level Panel on Access to Medicines (UNHLP). Though the focus of the Panel is to remedy “policy incoherence” or “misalignment” between intellectual property and human rights, the Global Intellectual Property Center today took the opportunity to flip that line of thinking on its head.

In our submission to the UNHLP, we stress that robust IP regimes are win-win-win for innovators, patients, and developing economies alike. For instance, the 2016 U.S. Chamber International IP Index (Chamber Index) found a few interesting statistical correlations that highlight the benefits of IP to developing economies and their patients:

  • Firms in economies with advanced IP rights in place are nearly 50% more likely to invest in R&D activities compared with those whose IP regimes lag behind;
  • When applied specifically to the life sciences sectors, advanced IP regimes experience 2 to 6 times more biopharmaceutical R&D expenditure than do economies with less supportive IP regimes;
  • Firms and people in economies scoring above the median level of the Chamber Index are 30% more likely to benefit from access to the most recent technological developments compared with those in economies with weak IP climates.

But you don’t have to just take our word for it. You can look to many other studies which show that strong IP protections result in faster launch and access to medicines in developing countries; or result in the introduction of medicines in developing countries that would not otherwise be available to patients in those markets; or the absence of such protection for IP can prevent the deployment of the latest technologies to those who need it most.

2015 Nobel laureate Angus Deaton went on to discuss that differences in access to health care solutions “indicate the workings of a benevolent process, and policies to address inequalities should be designed so as not to hinder the diffusion of better health.”  Professor Deaton went on to note that “while we should like to reduce the inequalities, we must be careful that our policies speed up the widespread adoption of beneficial treatments and do not discourage their introduction or the discovery of new treatments, and thus kill the innovative goose that is laying the golden eggs.”

We also reject the notion that IP is somehow in conflict with human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides: “(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.” This not only enshrines access as a human right, but in the same vein ennobles IP rights as human rights, a reality not fully recognized by the premise of the UNHLP.

Further, we believe that the very nature of the patent system advances human rights. The patent system requires that knowledge related to invention and discovery be accessible to society. Such disclosures actually catalyze innovation and promote the diffusion of medical knowledge and health technologies.

The UNHLP’s goal is commendable, but we believe the Panel’s premise is misdirected and misguided at best. We should support the great work already underway by multilateral agencies with jurisdiction and expertise on IP and healthcare, primarily the World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, and the World Intellectual Property Organization. Together, we can ensure that public health objectives are met by embracing an evidence-driven approach which facilitates the widespread implementation of proven IP models in an effort to catalyze innovation and economic development in every corner of the world.

Ashley Mergen is Senior Manager of International Intellectual Property Policy at the Global Intellectual Property Center.

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