News Release: Essential Comment at Completion of WHO R&D Talks

May 24, 2008

For More Information Please Contact:
•Sarah Rimmington, Attorney, Essential Action
(Tel) +41 (0)78 847 0562 (in Geneva until May 29, 2008)
(email) [email protected]

** Sarah Rimmington, Essential Action Comment at the Close of the 61st World Health Assembly regarding the Just Completed Negotiations of the World Health Organization’s Intergovernmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (IGWG)**

The world community has taken a bold step today by agreeing on a way forward to reform a global system of medical research and development that has largely failed to meet the needs of people in developing countries.

After a difficult round of negotiations, countries have finalized a very good global strategy aimed at spurring the development of medicines and other products that will meet priority health needs, and make those products available on an affordable basis. Up until now the current patent-monopoly based system of R&D has treated innovation and access as contradictory objectives that must be counterbalanced to each other. Because of IGWG, the nations of the world have for the first time acknowledged that innovation and access are complementary public health objectives; that we can have “innovation plus access.”

Notably, countries agreed on the following issues:

– 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 to innovators.

– To encourage future discussions of an R&D Treaty, which would involve agreement that all countries should have to contribute to global R&D, or at least participate in the R&D system, but that there should be differential obligations based on degrees of wealth.

– Developing countries must be encouraged to adopt and implement legislation that contains measures to prevent and penalize anti-competitive practices regarding pharmaceutical patents.

– The importance of creating a global patent database for pharmaceuticals to promote both innovation and access to medicines.

– The WHO has a crucial role to play regarding health-related implications of patent and related intellectual property rules, and in particular in proactively providing technical assistance to developing countries that promotes the use of existing flexibilities in international trade rules, to expand access to new and existing patented treatments where there are price barriers.

At the same time there is critical work that remains to be done to promote R&D models that will work for the developing world. Member countries must actually implement the innovative approaches to R&D agreed upon today at the WHA. For the promise of IGWG to be realized, it is crucial that countries take concrete steps to advance experiments with new institutional arrangements for R&D, such as the non-patent prize proposals to address priority health needs of developing countries put forward earlier this month by Bolivia and Barbados. This work will begin very soon when the WHO convenes the R&D financing working group mandated by the WHA.