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Friday, March 25, 2005

We Root for the Culture of Life. We Bet on the Culture of Profit 

The older, better news, via our newlywed colleague Rorschach at No Capital:
In its latest bid to reduce the cost of HIV and AIDS drugs, Brazil's government has threatened to break the patents of American pharmaceutical firms unless they share their technology with local drug makers.

Called "voluntary licensing," the policy is aimed at allowing government laboratories or Brazilian pharmaceutical manufacturers under government contract to produce generic versions of the drugs.

"To guarantee the sustainability of our (AIDS) program, we need to produce these drugs ourselves," Jarbas Barbosa, a high-ranking official with Brazil's health ministry, told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview Tuesday. "Even with recent price reductions that we obtained from drug producers, the total cost of retroviral (anti-AIDS) drugs is growing in an unbearable way" . . . .

Among developing nations, Brazil is considered a success story in containing AIDS. By bombarding the public with safe sex campaigns and free condom distribution, the country of 183 million people has limited the spread of HIV to levels similar to those in Western Europe.

Brazil also gives free anti-HIV and AIDS drugs free to anyone who needs them, but the government says the cost of providing them will surge and endanger the program.
The fresher, lousier news, via our esteemed colleague Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution:
International aid groups criticized India's passage yesterday of a new patent law ending the decades-old practice of allowing domestic drug companies to make low-cost copies of expensive Western medicines, saying millions of poor people across the world will be affected.

The changes in patent rights stem from India's membership in the World Trade Organization, which enhances the country's participation in global trade but requires it to enforce stricter patent rules for its $5 billion pharmaceutical industry.

International aid groups said the new law will curb the supply of cheap generic drugs to impoverished nations, threatening the survival of AIDS and cancer patients there.

Some 50 percent of 700,000 HIV patients taking antiretroviral medicines in Africa, Asia, and Latin America rely on low-cost drugs from India.

A month's dose of a generic AIDS drug cocktail costs $30, or 5 percent of similar drugs sold by Western producers.

''Because India is one of the world's biggest producers of generic drugs, this law will have a severe knock-on effect on many developing countries which depend on imported generic drugs from India," said Samar Verma, regional policy adviser at Oxfam International.

The Paris-based Doctors Without Borders described the Indian move as ''the beginning of the end of affordable generics."

Multinational drug companies welcomed the decision.
But doesn't Big Pharma need those royalties to fund research and development of new drugs?
The federal government invests tens of billions of dollars annually in Research and Development (R&D), most prominently through the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Health and Human Services. These investments lead to new inventions and the awarding of thousands of patents -- publicly financed, and frequently publicly owned intellectual property.

Since the 1980's, the government has routinely given away the fruits of the research it sponsors, granting private corporations exclusive, royalty-free rights to commercialize government-financed inventions while failing to include and/or enforce reasonable pricing requirements in the licenses. The result: a corporate welfare bonanza for biotech, computer, aerospace, pharmaceutical, and other firms.

In the critical area of pharmaceuticals, for example, this research giveaway policy leads to superprofiteering by giant drug manufacturers, who charge unconscionably high prices for important medicines -- costing consumers, and often resulting in the denial of treatments to consumers who are unable to pay high prices. In an irony that must keep the staff of the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers Association in stitches, perhaps the largest ripped-off consumer is the federal government -- the same federal government that paid for the drugs' invention -- which must pay extravagant fees through the Veterans' Administration and Medicaid (although the government-brokered are [were -- S.] lower than those paid by individuals).

-- Ralph Nader, Cutting Corporate Welfare (2000)


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