R&D and Innovation

(Quoted from Doctors Without Boarders/MSF, http://www.msfaccess.org/main/access-patents/introduction-to-access-and-patents/patents-and-innovation/


Research and Development as a Justification for High Prices

Pharmaceutical companies and many governments argue that regardless of their impact on drug prices, patents are necessary for research and development (R&D).  Charging higher prices, so the argument goes, allows them to get a big financial return on their investment, and they can then re-invest in more R&D.  Without patents in other words, there will be no innovation.

This is easily disproved.  Africa accounts for some 1% of the world's medicine market.  Even if the big pharmaceutical companies ended up making no sales on the continent, their profits - and therefore the money available to them to invest into R&D -  would be only negligibly impacted.  Their ability to generate income to perform more research depends overwhelmingly on sales in wealthy markets.  Yet patents are pursued just as vehemently in developing countries as they are in wealthier nations.


Twin problems, one solution: tackling innovation and access together
R&D into medicines is expensive, and someone has to pay.  But in today's world, that person is the patient.  The predominant system for drug development today has two deadly effects, then: high prices on the one hand, and the lack of R&D into diseases of the poor on the other.  

If the world is to come up with a way of developing medicines which makes sure that those who need them can access them, we will therefore need to look at both medical innovation and access to medicines at the same time.

International talks currently underway at the World Health Organization are seeking to do just that. The Intergovernmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property, or IGWG, was established by member states of the World Health Organization in 2006 to tackle the problems with the current access to medicines and R&D environments.

The working group is groundbreaking as it is the first high-level international body to consider both R&D and access to medicines issues at the same time.


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