Drug trade body is in support of patents renewal

Author: Tamar Kahn

Source: Business Day

The draft policy’s proposals would combat any spurious attempts to prolong drug company monopolies. The Department of Trade and Industry’s draft intellectual-property policy places too much emphasis on drug firms’ “ever-greening” patents on medicines, fuelling misconceptions about the practice, according to the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of SA (Ipasa).

Ipasa is a trade body representing multinational drug firms that hold the patents on brand-name products. These companies have come under fire from health activists for patenting modifications on old drugs, which the activists say are not really new inventions.

“There is such a misunderstanding of the concept of incremental innovation. [It] is still seen as a means to block generics, which is a total misconception,” said Ipasa CEO Konji Sebati. “If you move from injecting a drug four times a day to long-release, a lot of research has gone into that,” she said.

The draft policy’s proposals for introducing substantive search and examination procedures for patent applications, which would see them closely scrutinised for novelty and innovation, would combat any spurious attempts to prolong drug company monopolies.

SA has a depository system, which effectively rubber stamps patent applications, and patents can only be challenged after they have been granted.

The policy’s proposals for supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs were welcome and Ipasa supported the scaling up of local manufacturing “beyond Panado and Ciprofloxacin”, she said.

Sebati questioned the feasibility of the policy’s proposals for setting up a system for awarding compulsory licences, arguing SA lacked the manufacturing capacity to make this a reality.

When governments issue compulsory licences, they allow companies to bypass intellectual property laws in the interests of public health, enabling the production of cheap generic copies before patents have expired.

Sebati said it was unlikely that the government would need to issue a compulsory licence for a patented drug or import it, as Ipasa members were willing to negotiate with the national Department of Health.