KittisakJirasittichai /
17 October 2018Big Pharma

SPC waiver: good intentions, but not the right deal?

Striking the perfect balance between incentivising innovation in drug development and widening access to medicines through generic competition is perhaps an unobtainable aim, but it’s an ideal that legislators and regulators must strive towards.

In 2016, in its “Resolution in the Single Market Strategy”, the European Parliament urged the European Commission to boost competition in the generic and biosimilar drugs market—without undermining the market exclusivity granted to IP owners—by 2019.

In response, in May this year, the Commission announced its plan to introduce a manufacturing waiver in relation to Regulation 469/2009, which governs the grant and scope of supplementary protection certificates (SPCs).

Businesses, interest groups, and associations have reacted strongly to the proposal, demonstrating that there is no such thing as a perfect balance in the context of innovation and generic competition.

For example, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, a trade body for the research-based pharmaceutical industry, released a statement in strong opposition to the waiver.

The association said the waiver “reduces IP rights and thereby jeopardises patient access to innovative treatments”, indicating to the rest of the world that the EU has lessened its commitment to IP.

On the other hand, Medicines for Europe, which represents the interests of generic and biosimilar pharmaceutical companies, called the proposal “essential for patient access to medicines and pharmaceutical manufacturing in Europe”. It added the caveat that “unintended effects” of the waiver need to be ironed out before it is implemented.

Although the Commission is seeking to implement the waiver by 2019, adoption of the proposal may well be delayed by the Parliament and the Commission coming to the end of their terms. Given the opposition to the waiver, it seems unlikely that the proposal will complete the legislative process before the European Parliamentary elections in May next year.

It is therefore perhaps too early to say how the waiver will work out for the affected parties, but with such a big unknown, concerns will remain in the meantime.

The proposal

An SPC, which can last up to five years, provides protection against not just the sale, but also the manufacture, of a medicine in the EU.

Paul England, senior associate at Taylor Wessing, notes that the SPC regulation prevents any generic manufacturing of the drug within the EU, regardless of it would have been exported and sold in a territory where SPC protection does not apply.

The Commission believes that this aspect of the regulation places generic manufacturers in the EU at a disadvantage compared to those based in other locations, which are able to make and then sell generic or biosimilar drugs, England says.

Liz Cohen, joint managing partner at Bristows, adds that these non-EU generic manufacturers are also able to bring generic or biosimilar drugs onto the EU market as soon as SPC protection expires, giving them a head start over EU-based manufacturers in their ability to compete globally.

The Commission’s proposal is intended to deal with any such disadvantage by providing an exemption to manufacturers in EU countries covered by an SPC, to allow manufacture for export outside the EU, England says.

Cohen says that the waiver is the first part of a wider initiative in the EU to revise and clarify the SPC regulation, to boost the competitiveness of the generics market without harming those who have obtained an SPC.

Michael Pears, partner, and Joel Beevers, patent assistant, at Potter Clarkson, note that the SPC regulation is already designed to strike a balance between the rights of innovators (SPC owners) and those of other manufacturers.

The Commission has claimed that the proposal will be instrumental in boosting the EU’s pharmaceutical research and development (R&D) hub, and predicted that it will generate additional net export sales of more than €1 billion ($1.2 billion) as well as 25,000 extra skilled jobs in Europe.

It will also raise the opportunity for EU-based generic and biosimilar manufacturers to be the first to market newly off-patent drugs in non-EU countries, leading to pricing advantages in potentially large markets, England says.

The reception

Cohen notes that there has been a “mixed reception” to the proposed waiver.

Trevor Cook, partner at WilmerHale, suggests there is “much more scope” for innovation and job creation in R&D for new pharmaceuticals than there is in generic manufacturing, and that the proposed waiver would drive drug innovation away from Europe.

As such, he says “the proposal is a bad idea”.

Pears and Beevers agree that the waiver would not necessarily lead to innovation and job creation. Any perceived erosion of IP rights may well reduce the apparent attractiveness of the EU as a place to innovate if that innovation is not sufficiently protected, they explain.

The Potter Clarkson lawyers add that the Commission’s estimation of the benefits gained from the waiver fail to consider the “unquantifiable negative effect of what many could see as an erosion of the monopoly right” in a drug.

Other concerns have been put forward about the practical workings of an SPC waiver.

Cohen says she cannot see how the SPC manufacturing waiver would lead to the benefits which are expected, as the proposal does not consider other patents in an SPC owner’s portfolio, such as those which protect the medicine formulation, or process patents.

She says that these prohibit the manufacture of certain formulations or by certain processes in the territories they cover, meaning that generic or biosimilar manufacturers may not reap the benefits expected.

Cook claims the Commission’s argument that the current situation puts EU-based manufacturers at a disadvantage compared to manufacturers in countries with less/no protection could equally be applied to any other IP right that provides a higher level of protection in Europe than in other territories.

“What Europe should be doing is encouraging other countries to match its standards of protection, and indeed consider whether there is a case for increasing them (such as by extending the maximum SPC term to that originally proposed in the 1990s, which was ten years), not participating in a race to the bottom by reducing them,” he explains.

Strength of safeguards

The Commission’s proposal contains safeguards to prevent generic and biosimilar manufacturers from diverting the waived products into the EU, but “whether the proposed safeguards will be enough remains to be seen”, Cohen says.

Already registered?

Login to your account

To request a FREE 2-week trial subscription, please signup.
NOTE - this can take up to 48hrs to be approved.

Two Weeks Free Trial

For multi-user price options, or to check if your company has an existing subscription that we can add you to for FREE, please email Adrian Tapping at