It is short-sighted to view patents as blocking access to life-saving drugs, or to see patented medicines and generic drugs as mutually exclusive. The latter exist because someone invested in research and innovation to invent the former. A robust intellectual property rights (IPR) framework promotes the development of new medicines and encourages investment in innovation.
Innovative medicines offer great hope to patients, but developing new treatments and cures is a long, costly, and complex process. Life-saving drugs are necessary for combating life-threatening diseases, but patients also need new drugs and solutions for changing disease profiles. There are still huge unmet medical needs and therapeutic areas that need to be addressed with innovation-driven cures. We need to continue research in cancer, diabetes and mental illnesses. Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dengue still have no cure.
Clearly, there must be access to medicines for everybody but, equally, if there isn’t a return on investment, how will innovators justify investing in new medicines? India needs to ensure a favourable policy environment that supports continued research and development of new medicines through a system of patents.
Protecting intellectual property will help bring new solutions for rare diseases and new medicines, to save and improve lives.
While we must improve access to healthcare for Indian patients, we should understand what this access means. An IMS study finds that access starts with the proximity, quality and functionality of healthcare infrastructure. Accurate diagnosis is often more important than the price of medicine.
More than affordability, another barrier to access is the inability to pay out-of-pocket and the lack of insurance cover. To improve access, we need sustainable policy solutions to support healthcare financing, infrastructure and human resource challenges.
Certainly, a weakened IP environment or Compulsory Licences (CLs) cannot address India’s healthcare problems. Under Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), CLs are used in exceptional circumstances, and as a last resort. Under Section 92 of the Indian Patents Act, CLs come into play in situations such as national emergency and public health crises. Used arbitrarily, CLs will serve to undermine the innovative pharmaceutical industry, to the long-term detriment of the patient.
We need a different dialogue on the subject of making life-saving drugs affordable in India. There is no question that everybody should have access to all medicines. Where patented products are largely beyond the reach of Indian patients, companies have robust programmes to make them available for free or for a fraction of their price. Multinational companies are considering differentiated pricing schemes for developing countries. Today, patients are living longer and healthier lives, thanks to innovative medicines from research-based companies. In many cases, these medicines are their only chance for survival.
Ranjana Smetacek is director general, Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India. The views expressed are personal.