WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Medicine costs would rise if draft proposals in a Pacific Rim trade pact come into force, health and consumer rights advocates said on Thursday after the release of a leaked negotiating text.
Documents published by whistle-blowers WikiLeaks showed countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were still far apart on issues such drug patents, copyright and other intellectual property questions.
The 77-page draft chapter, dated May 16, showed a push to extend protection for drugs and other medicines which would keep prices high for longer and delay the introduction of cheaper generic alternatives, according to legal experts and groups including Public Citizen and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
“Adopting the text in its current form will negatively affect affordable access to medicines and the health of millions of people across the Asia-Pacific region,” MSF said.
The TPP’s 12 members range from the United States and Japan to Malaysia and Vietnam, where equitable access to medicine is a priority, and Australia and New Zealand, whose prescription drug subsidy programs could become more expensive under extended patent protections.
Pharmaceutical industry group PhRMA and intellectual property rights proponents said strong IP protection encouraged innovation and supported economic growth and development.
The U.S. experience, where generic drugs made up 85 percent of the market, showed that high IP standards were compatible with “fulsome access to medicines,” said Mark Elliot from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center.
But Northeastern University law professor Brook Baker said there were several proposals in the draft which would prevent marketing of generic drugs and make it easier for drug companies to get follow-on patents for small changes to or new uses of existing medicines.
“The disclosed TPP text is a bonanza for Big Pharma and a disaster for patients everywhere,” he said.
The draft showed a deadlock over how long to allow a monopoly on biologics: medicines made from living cells, which are an increasing focus for companies such as Roche Holding AG, AbbVie Inc and Amgen Inc.
The United States protects such drugs for 12 years, Japan eight years and Australia five years. The text lists alternatives ranging from no protection at all to 12 years.
Public Citizen said it was welcome that the text omitted a previous provision allowing patents for surgical methods and seemed set to weaken some limits on secondary patents, although it was still far from being acceptable.
The U.S. Trade Representative’s office cautioned against drawing conclusions based on “supposed leaked text from unnamed sources that does not reflect the current state of the negotiation.”
“The U.S. is working to reach an outcome in TPP that reflects our values by working to ensure that the incentives are in place for the development of new, lifesaving medicines and that promote access to those medicines,” a spokesman said.
Public Citizen said its tracking of the TPP talks showed contentious issues in the May text remained unresolved heading into negotiations in Australia later this month.
Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Jonathan Oatis