Reform of intellectual property rules over vital public health research on such diseases as ebola and Zika virus is long over-due, says QUT IP expert Professor Matthew Rimmer.
The UN's just-released report Promoting Innovation and Access to Health Technologies, recommends open access for public research.
“This is a life and death issue in the face of a long history of patent conflicts over access to essential medicines – particularly for HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis,” Professor Rimmer said.
“There have also been unproductive patent races over genetically sequencing the SARS virus and legal conflict all around the world over the cost of medicines for cancer treatment.
“The report highlights the need for constructive reforms in respect of intellectual property to address market failures in access to essential medicines, innovation policy, trade and investment law, public health, and human rights.
“I hope the report’s key recommendations will be taken seriously and implemented around the world but I fear they will be ignored because they would upset and disrupt the status quo."
He said the report recommended open access for public research to ‘help address the misalignment between profit-driven innovation models and public health priorities’.
“Public funders of research must require knowledge generated from such research be made freely and widely available through publication in peer-reviewed literature and demand broad, online public access to such research,” Professor Rimmer said.
“The importance of research-sharing for accelerating significant research was highlighted by US Vice President Joe Biden as part of the Cancer ‘Moonshot’ initiative to speed up research on eliminating cancer.”
Professor Rimmer said the report also called for new incentives for research and development, particularly for emerging infectious diseases like ebola and the Zika virus.
“As well as intellectual property issues, there have been concerns about competition law and policy after scandals over market monopolies, even where intellectual property rights have expired, such as Mylan’s Epipen in the United States," he said.
“The report has addressed concerns about the impact of regional trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“It recommends ‘governments engaged in bilateral and regional trade and investment treaties should ensure that these agreements do not include provisions that interfere with their obligations to fulfil the right to health’.
“This report from the UN's Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines has sought to harmonise a fragmented and incoherent international regime on access to medicines that has seen egregious inequity in the distribution of life-saving therapies.”
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