Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Trying to Understand the Roadblocks to Providing Generic Antiretroviral Drugs

I just read this article on the CBC website (click title above) to try and understand the complex issues surrounding the push to export cheap generic antiretroviral drugs to poor African countries that are in dire need of them.

This is how I understand it. The roadblocks include:
a) a clause in the law that the Cdn. gov't passed that says Canada can only export a drug to a country if the country makes a request. African countries are reluctant to do this becuase they are afraid of offending the major pharmaceutical companies, the ones who are on the front line inventing and testing for new and better drugs. That's an understandable concern.

b) In order for any Cdn. drug company to export generic antiretroviral drugs, they must first get licensing permission from the major pharmaceutical company that invented that drug, and who owns the patents for that drug. To do this means that the Cdn. drug company must negotiate with the major drug company. This is easier said than done, and it takes a lot of time and resources. Apotex is reluctanct to devote itself to this process, and that is understandable. It is merely a company that manufactures drugs. It's not a politician.

c) Doctors Without Borders is pursuing these negotiations with fervor, but unfortunately the clause in the Cdn. law says that it must be a country that makes the request for the drugs, not an NGO (non-governmental organization). The article says: "The initial WTO ground rules, which Canada followed, included: Brand-name patent holders must first be invited to negotiate voluntary licensing agreements with generic manufacturers before they could be compelled to hand over their patents for humanitarian use. If there was to be compulsory licensing, this had to be on a one-shot contract with an identifiable country as purchaser (royalties were to be based on a specific country's ability to pay, among other criteria). As a result, the deal couldn't be made through an NGO."

So, in essence, Canada wrote a legislation based on the guidelines set by the WTO, and that very law includes a lot of brickwalls that prevents Cdns. from accomplishing what the law originally set out to accomplish. What a shame!

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