That's the conclusion of a major United Nations report, which is
bound to stir fierce debate between supporters of the current
market-based system of drug development and those favoring a greater
role for the state.
The high-level panel was set up last year by UN Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon to find solutions to the "policy incoherence" between
the rights of inventors, international human rights law, trade rules
and public health needs.
The issue has been given added urgency by the recent Ebola and Zika
outbreaks, two diseases centered on the developing world where there
has been little commercial incentive to develop either vaccines or
The final report, issued on Wednesday, calls for a de-linkage of R&D
costs and drug prices -- at least in areas where the system is
failing, such as tropical diseases and the hunt for new antibiotics
against "superbug" resistant bacteria.
It urges the UN Secretary-General to start a process for governments
to negotiate global agreements on the coordination, financing and
development of priority research programs.
"This includes negotiations for a binding R&D Convention that
delinks the costs of research and development from end prices to
promote access to good health for all," the report said.
The report attacks the "implicit threats" it says are sometimes used
by Western governments and companies to stop poorer countries from
exercising their right to over-ride drug patents under World Trade
That may not go down well in Washington, given the United States'
long-standing defense of the international intellectual property
system, which has governed world trade for more than two decades.
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The panel also calls for greater transparency on the true cost of
developing a new drug, citing estimates of anything between $150
million and $4 billion per medicine. And it wants disclosure on the
real prices paid by insurers and governments for drugs, after
The UN panel consisted of representatives from government, academia,
health activism and industry, under the leadership of Ruth Dreifuss
and Festus Mogae, the former presidents of Switzerland and Botswana.
Not all the panel's members agreed with all its conclusions.
GlaxoSmithKline Chief Executive Andrew Witty, one of the panelists,
expressed serious doubts about the proposed R&D Convention, given
the difficulty of raising the very substantial funds that would be
needed from governments to make it work.
(Editing by Louise Heavens)
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