JOHANNESBURG Jan 17 Global drug firms may
threaten to cut their South African investments as part of a
campaign against Pretoria's plans to overhaul its intellectual
property laws to favour generic production, documents seen by
South Africa is in the final stages of implementing a new
law that would allow generic drugmakers to produce cut-price
copies of patented medicines and generally make it harder to
register and roll-over pharmaceutical patents.
The planned reforms will also close a loophole known as
"ever-greening" that allows a drugmaker to make minor changes to
an existing drug or discover a new use for it, and then register
it as a totally new find.
A document, and an email from the head of intellectual
property (IP) at a drugs industry lobby group, outline a
$600,000 publicity campaign to mobilize local and overseas
voices to say the changes are a wrong turn for Africa's biggest
They also seek to ensure reforms are delayed at least until
after elections expected in early May by suggesting that the
changes will be politically damaging for South Africa's leaders.
"The world cares that South Africa is proposing to take a
wrong turn in economic policy by weakening IP protections. And
by cares, we mean both expresses compassionate concern and will
take action by reducing investment," the document reads.
It was prepared by U.S.-based consultancy Public Affairs
Engagement for the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association South
Africa (IPASA), an industry lobby group. IPASA members include
international drugmakers such as Sanofi, Baxter
International, Pfizer and Novartis.
In an accompanying Jan. 10 email to dozens of executives
from a wide range of drugs firms, Michael Azrak, the chairman of
IPASA's IP committee, paints a picture of a concerted
"This mobilisation will occur through an energetic campaign,
which will feel like a political campaign," he wrote. "Delay
will provide time to develop a third stage of the campaign."
Azrak, who is also the southern and east Africa head of U.S.
drugs group Merck & Co., declined to comment, referring
queries to IPASA spokeswoman Val Beaumont.
She confirmed the authenticity of the document but said the
proposals were still under consideration.
"No part of those proposals have been accepted. No part of
that document has been implemented," she told Reuters.
A campaign would not be the first time drugmakers have
clashed with Pretoria. A decade ago the industry was forced to
climb down in a bruising battle with South Africa over AIDS
Under current South African IP law, pharmaceutical companies
are able to register drugs as new finds without them being
checked for their novelty.
Healthcare activists say South Africa's track record of
approving drug patents - in 2008, it granted more than 2,400
pharmaceutical patents compared with fewer than 300 in six years
in Brazil - shows the need for reform.
South Africa, which has the world's biggest HIV/AIDS
treatment programme, is not alone in its attempt to rein in
soaring drug prices by cracking down on ever-greening.
India's relations with Western drugs firms have deteriorated
sharply since the government rejected patents on several
medicines because they did not satisfy a patent "inventive"