New patent rules threaten generic drugs for poor nations
December 31 2004 1:00 AM ET
New World Trade Organization rules that grant 20-year patents on new drugs could be disastrous for developing nations that need generic antiretroviral medications to treat their HIV-positive citizens, according to Doctors Without Borders. The British Medical Journal reports that the new patent regulations go into effect on January 1 for most nations, with only the least developed countries able to delay implementing the agreement until 2016.
The potential effect of the agreement on India's generic-drug industry, which manufactures single pills combining generic anti-HIV medications, worries officials at Doctors Without Borders. "We're not ideologically attached to generics, but we've found it works best," says Rowan Gillies, the agency's international president. "We're gravely concerned that our sources of affordable medicines will dry up. Not only are patents going to be granted on all new medicines, some existing medicines that we rely on will be reviewed for possible patent protection as well."
Currently, Doctors Without Borders treats about 23,000 HIV patients in 27 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe at about $250 per patient per year using generic medications. Doctors Without Borders officials worry that the per-patient cost could skyrocket if generic anti-HIV drugs are discontinued by manufacturers in India and other countries.