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5 March 2019Americas

‘Breaking’ patents would harm innovation: think tank

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) think tank has called on the US National Institutions of Health (NIH) to maintain IP protection amid calls to “break” patents in order to lower drug prices.

PrEP4All, the organisation behind the ‘ #BreakThePatent’ campaign, is calling on the NIH to invoke the “march-in provision” of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act to break pharmaceutical company  Gilead Science’s exclusivity on HIV prevention drug emtricitabine/tenofovir (Truvada).

The 1980 legislation outlined “march-in rights” whereby the US government can issue a new licence or revoke an existing licence for an invention which is under patent protection.

Emtricitabine/tenofovirdrug is the only form of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) approved by the  US Food and Drug Administration to prevent contraction of HIV.

In a new  report issued yesterday, March 4, the ITIF urged the NIH to “reject proposals that would commandeer the Bayh-Dole Act’s march-in provision for the purpose of controlling drug prices”.

Truvada  retails from $1758 for 30 100-150mg tablets. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDCP) has  said that “people who use PrEP must commit to taking the drug every day”.

According to the CDCP, PrEP can reduce the risk of exposure of those at high risk of contracting HIV by up to 92%.

Gilead offers a  coupon program to help some patients cover the cost of the treatment.

Yet PrEP4All has said that breaking Gilead’s patent exclusivity on Truvada could “immediately lower” the price of the drug and allow “millions to gain access to this life saving treatment”.

The campaign has received support from Cory Johnson, speaker of the New York City Council, who  last month said that “the cost of PrEP in our country reveals something deeply rotten about our healthcare system”.

“The NIH needs to march in and break the patent immediately”, Johnson said.

“As an [HIV-positive] elected official, I have a responsibility to the activists who came before me who I believe literally saved my life”, he added.

The ITIF, however, has warned that utilising the march-in provision would disincentivise pharmaceutical research.

The organisation, which lobbies for pro-innovation policies, said that calls to break patents to control drug prices “threaten to undermine this successful ecosystem and reduce the pace of American biopharmaceutical innovation”

Breaking companies’ patents in order to lower drug prices would ultimately result in fewer new pharmaceutical products, the ITIF argued.

According to the Bayh-Dole act was “never intended” to control drug prices, and lawmakers should honour “its original intent”.

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