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Oxfam: pharma should back down

Two international pharmaceutical companies have been criticised in a report published by Oxfam International

Oxfam: pharma should back down
Two international pharmaceutical companies have been criticised in a report published today (November 14) by Oxfam International, which accuses wealthy Western nations of putting profits before health and denying access to innovative medicines for developing countries.

In Patents vs Patients: Five Years After the Doha Declaration, Novartis and Pfizers' efforts to defend the protection afforded by product patents are portrayed as barriers to the fair and successful implementation of the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health. In 2001, members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) enacted the declaration, which asserts that intellectual property rules should not prevent countries from protecting health.

Five years on and Oxfam International's report calls for the cessation of lawsuits currently being pursued by Novartis and Pfizer against governments in developing countries and contends that `rich countries must live up to their commitments and stop undermining the Doha Declaration with their selfish actions'.

The Oxfam document (available via notes that according to the World Health Organisation and in spite of the aims of the Doha Declaration, nearly three in four AIDS medicines are still under monopoly (77 per cent of Africans still have no access to AIDS treatment) and 30 per cent of the global population still do not have regular access to essential medicines.

One particular bone of contention in the report is that generic competition is being curbed to help keep drug prices high, which is happening because relatively wealthy nations -?largely the US, it notes -?are `bullying developing countries to impose stricter intellectual property rules in order to preserve pharmaceutical monopolies'.

Pfizer -Philippines
The two case studies to which the report refers include Pfizer's reaction to the Philippine government which, following certain tests, gave a regulatory approval for a cheaper version of cardiovascular drug Norvasc; this would be made available from June 2007, when Pfizer's current patent expires. The company is defending itself against this action, reportedly by way of suing the government. The key point, the report asserts, is that Pfizer's reaction limits the Philippines' ability to exercise its right, under TRIPS to protects its inhabitants' health.

Pfizer told Pharmaceutical Marketing that it fundamentally supports the Philippine government's objective to make quality medicines affordable for its citizens. ìFor two years, as part of a generous discount programme, Norvasc has been available at 50 per cent of the recommended retail price.î Yet, the company also stated that it had received no assurance from the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC) and Bureau of Food and Drugs that marketing, distribution and sale of Norvasc would not occur until the patent expired.

The company's main point of concern surrounded the PITC's move to import the active ingredient from unauthorised sources in India and Pakistan, in preparation for June 2007, which Pfizer said elicited ìserious concerns for patient safetyî. Furthermore, the subject product had already been discovered as ready for sale to patients, and while Pfizer had made the drug available for half price, it was prohibited from directly informing the public of the discount, ìwhile the PITC is freely available to advertise its drugs pricesî, the firm added.

Novartis -India
Novartis is dealing with an insurgence in India by several cancer patient groups which used intellectual property law to prevent the Swiss firm making a patent application for anti-cancer drug Glivec, thereby enabling Indian generics manufacturers to produce the product at a 90 per cent discount. Novartis' defence is that Indian intellectual property law does not align with the TRIPS agreement, and hence it should be permitted to provide Glivec under patent protection.

On the Oxfam website there is an invitation for online punters to `email the Novartis CEO', which when clicked links to a `Make Trade Fair' page displaying comments from the website's users aimed at Daniel Vasella.

Novartis was not available to comment on this approach at the time of writing.

30th September 2008


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