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Freer trade may hurt access to India generic drugs

* UNITAID says 80 percent of its AIDS drugs come from India

* Tougher intellectual property rules may harm trade

GENEVA, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Freer trade could harm India’s generic drug business, which supplies the bulk of the AIDS medicines sent to developing countries, a study backed by the drug-purchasing body UNITAID said on Tuesday.

The report, written by a UNITAID official along with experts from Boston University and Harvard, warns that India’s generics could cost more and be harder to access if the country has to adhere to stricter intellectual property rules.

It said trade deals India already signed up to, such as the World Trade Organisation intellectual property accord known as TRIPS, have already begun to complicate efforts to get cheap, life-saving drugs to poorer countries.

“The introduction of product patents in India is severely constraining generic competition and supply, particularly for newer medicines,” the report found.

“Many free trade agreements that have been concluded or are being negotiated between industrialized and developing countries contain measures that restrict access to medicines.”

The study, published in the Journal of the International AIDS Society, said trade talks between India and the European Union include measures that could delay or restrict competition from generic medicines by extending patent terms, requiring data exclusivity and tightening border enforcement rules.

Such moves could drive up prices for India’s anti-retroviral treatments, limit dosage options and delay access to newer and better drugs, the report argued.

“Such measures can undermine the international goal to achieve universal access to HIV/AIDS interventions.”

Set up in 2006 by Brazil, Chile, France, Norway and Britain, UNITAID uses proceeds from airfare taxes and donations to fund HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis treatment in poor countries.

Jorge Bermudez, UNITAID’s executive secretary, said that 80 percent of the AIDS drugs the group now distributes come from Indian generics manufacturers.

“The findings of this study raise grave concerns for us,” he said in a statement. “What we need today is a more flexible approach to scale up treatment and not the opposite.”

India's generic drug manufacturers include Cipla Ltd CIPL.BO, Aurobindo Pharma Ltd ARBN.BO, Strides Arcolab Ltd STAR.BO, Dr Reddys Laboratories REDY.BO and Ranbaxy Laboratories RANB.BO. (Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Mark Heinrich)

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