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Archived updates for Friday, April 07, 2006

WHO Reports on Public Health, Innovation, and IPRs

On April 3, 2006, the U.N. Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health presented its report entitled "Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property Rights" to the World Health Organization.

The 228-page report contains a set of 50-odd recommendations, of which only a handful are specific. According to the summary FAQ section,

Intellectual property rights are a general incentive provided by governments to promote innovation in all fields. In respect of public health, they are embedded in a set of other incentives which influence the pattern of innovation. They need to be looked at as part of a bigger picture.

In particular, because the market demand for diagnostics, vaccines
and medicines needed to address health problems mainly affecting developing countries is small and uncertain, the incentive effect of intellectual property
rights may be limited or non-existent. Because intellectual property rights
may not be an effective incentive in this area, there is a need for other incentives and financial mechanisms to be put in place and for collaborative efforts between different stakeholders.

Without access to the products of innovation, there can be no public health benefits. Defining the conditions by which products can be accessed is therefore an important aspect of the report. There has been significant progress in recent years, in particular initiatives taken by different stakeholders to promote innovation in health-care products e.g. increased funding by foundations and the formation of public-private partnerships for product development. This momentum for change is welcome but is

More needs to be done. There are unsettled and debated issues in intellectual property for example the effectiveness of the recent amendment to TRIPS in increasing access to medicines in countries without manufacturing capacity, the impact of data exclusivity laws and the impact of intellectual property provisions in bilateral trade agreements.

And there is a need to ensure enhanced financing on a sustainable basis of innovation and access and promote synergy between the different partners.

Ultimately it is a responsibility that governments must accept if these objectives are to be achieved.

It is appropriate that WHO should now take the lead in promoting a more sustainable and better-funded effort and addressing unresolved issues.

WHO should accordingly develop a Global Plan of Action to secure enhanced and sustainable funding for developing and making accessible products to address diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries.

Initial reactions to the the report were mixed. According to Bridges Weekly Trade Digest, disagreements among the commission's ten members, who included representatives from industry, government, and academia, delayed publication of the report and resulted in a separate section containing individual commission members' assorted reservations about its content. Although the report explains to some extent why IP protections alone are not sufficient incentive to ensure the satisfaction of certain public health needs in developing countries, critics charge that it fails to provide a more comprehensive analysis of IP's effects on those needs -- and thus, to make more systemic policy recommendations. Others say that the study will encourage more concrete discussions on the topic.

A competing report from the International Policy Network was released on March 28, 2006 with one of its lead authors concluding that

When it comes to medicines for the diseases of poverty, governments
are the main barriers to access and innovation. Intellectual property is an
important driver of innovation but in poor countries governments currently
prevent people from accessing cheap, generic medicines that could cure many of
the diseases they face. In such circumstance, what is the point of producing new
drugs for these diseases? Governments must remove the taxes, tariffs and
regulations that prevent the sick from getting treatment.
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