LEBANON, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards said on Tuesday he would consider taking away patent protections for "breakthrough" drugs in a bid to get them more widely distributed and lower the cost of health care.
Campaigning in New Hampshire, which holds the nation's first nominating primary, the former North Carolina senator said the move would be part of his $120 billion plan to provide universal health care for all U.S. citizens.
"It would also create a different dynamic for drug companies and particularly for breakthrough drugs in big areas like Alzheimer's, cancer, etc.," Edwards told a group of medical professionals at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
"We'd offer a cash prize for the research and development of these drugs, but they don't get a patent. So we eliminate the monopoly," Edwards said as he sought his party's presidential nomination in the November 2008 election.
"The idea is you've got to give the financial incentive for the companies to do it but on the flip side you get the products to the market quicker, available quickly and at a much lower cost," he said.
Pharmaceutical companies sold some $274.9 billion worth of prescription drugs in the United States in 2006, according to market researcher IMS Health.
Patent protections are intended to allow inventors a period of time to sell their wares with limited direct competition, and recoup their investments in research and development.
Some of the world's top-selling drugs, including Pfizer Inc's anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor and AstraZeneca Plc's acid reflux treatment Nexium, which are still under patent, are losing sales to cheaper rivals that are based on older drugs with similar effects.
(Editing by David Wiessler)