Originally published on Advocate.com July 07 2004 12:00 AM ET
Despite calls from developing nations and AIDS service organizations to loosen patent protections on brand-name anti-HIV drugs so that generic versions can be manufactured, U.S. trade officials are currently negotiating a series of agreements to strengthen patent protections on all brand-name drugs, The Wall Street Journal reports. Makers of generic drugs often win approval to make cheaper versions of patented drugs by proving their products are equivalent to the brand-name medications. But the agreements being sought by U.S. trade representatives would give brand-name drugs a five-year exclusivity period by preventing countries trading with the United States from approving generic-drug applications that include data originally collected and submitted by the brand-name developer. Most generic-drug firms use the original drug research as the foundation for their drug development processes. U.S. officials have reached agreements with Jordan, Chile, and Singapore, and are finalizing agreements with Australia, Morocco, and six Central American countries. Negotiations are also under way with Thailand.
AIDS activists say the agreements will keep the prices of anti-HIV drugs too high for too long, leaving millions of HIV-positive people in developing countries unable to access the more expensive brand-name medications. Richard Feachem, executive director of the United Nations-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, says the new agreement with Jordan will make an HIV antiretroviral cocktail there cost about $7,000 per person per year, compared with an average price of $250 to $400 per person per year in countries that receive generic anti-HIV drugs through the fund. In Thailand, where about 35,000 people are treated with domestically produced generic anti-HIV drugs, the agreement would keep generic versions of new brand-name drugs out of the hands of HIV-positive people until the end of the decade. But representatives of brand-name pharmaceutical companies say they are working to provide low- or no-cost anti-HIV drugs in poor nations. They also say the current practices for approving and making generic drugs in many countries make it too easy for generic-drug makers to profit from investments in drug research and development made by the brand-name firms.