Essential Action Comment on the Latest Round of WHO R&D Talks

Comment of Sarah Rimmington, Attorney, Essential Action upon the conclusion of the World Health Organization’s Intergovernmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (IGWG)

The world community met this week at the IGWG because the current corporate sector system of medical R&D – which is based on patent monopolies – has largely failed people in developing countries. Despite difficult and incomplete negotiations, delegates took an important first step today by agreeing to explore some common sense measures to address this failure and promote developing country focused innovation plus access. This includes an agreement to explore R&D incentives like prizes that do not rely on patent monopolies and the prospect of charging high drug prices as a reward, and to encourage future discussions of an R&D Treaty.

Despite this progress, much work remains to be done to promote R&D models that will work for the developing world. Consensus was not reached on concrete proposals to actually implement the urgently needed new incentive mechanisms because of resistance from developed countries such as the United States, the EU, and Canada. A significant amount of negotiating time was lost debating core principles such as the role of patents in creating barriers to access to medicines, and the importance of promoting the use of already-agreed to flexibilities available under international trade law to promote access to affordable generic medicines where patent protections remain a problem.

It is hard not to wonder if pressure from the brand-name pharmaceutical industry – which is based in developed countries and remains ideologically committed to patent monopolies – influenced this disappointing outcome.

But it’s not too late. Member countries have another year to finalize the R&D agreement; they must use this time wisely by taking concrete steps such as coming to an agreement on financing proposals for the new incentive mechanisms.

For more information, contact Sarah Rimmington (in Geneva until May 5) (+41)(0)76-269-2246,
[email protected]