Patent monopolies on life-saving drugs: the biggest killer of our time? It’s a burning issue: should pharmaceutical companies be granted patent monopolies on life-saving drugs they have developed if it is costing millions of lives?
When big business and humanitarian concerns meet one another face-to-face, there is likely to be a clash. Should a pharmaceutical company’s loyalties lie with its shareholders, or with the sick?
Dr Yusuf Hamied, chairperson of Cipla, believes that there is a middle way: “I do believe that anybody manufacturing products for healthcare cannot regard it as 100 percent business: it is business plus a humanitarian approach to society because you are saving lives. You are playing with people’s lives.”
All new products are the result of extensive research, and traditionally it is believed that firms often have to test between 5000 and 10000 substances for every one that is found to be effective, and then makes it to the market. This process is estimated to cost between $1.2 and $1.5 billion. Even then, 80% of them still lose money. So patents protect a company’s interests, and funds research – or so the argument goes.
The humanitarian argument is that company profits should never be put before saving the lives of people and Dr Hamied agrees with this when he says,” I believe that life-saving, essential drugs should be freely available and the innovator should be paid a suitable royalty payment for his invention.”
The high cost of patented medicines, such as antiretrovirals, certain cancer medications and medications for the treatment of respiratory illnesses, have, in the past, blocked access to these medicines for people from lower income groups. Patents are granted in the US and in European countries for a specific period of time – sometimes up to 20 years. During that time, other drug companies are prohibited from manufacturing generics of the patented medicines.
Cipla’s aim has always been patient-centred, as is illustrated by its campaigns, such as the Breathefree Initiative, and its enormous range of affordable respiratory products – now available in over 100 countries.
Read more about Cipla’s Breathefree Initiative here: (http://www.breathefree.com/)
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