KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 18 ― A new leak of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) chapter on intellectual property shows a push for patent protection to be expanded and lengthened, possibly making medicines unaffordable for average Malaysians, said a DAP lawmaker and an AIDS group.
DAP’s Klang MP Charles Santiago said the free trade agreement indicated that the United States and Japan are trying to provide major pharmaceutical companies long-term monopolies on drug patents, such as those for HIV, cancer and mental illness, which may cause generic versions to be available only after 50 or 60 years.
“The price of medicine will definitely increase,” Santiago told Malay Mail Online on yesterday.
The federal lawmaker noted that the usual patent protection period allowed by the World Trade Organization (WTO) is already 20 years.
Coupled with the US’ push for a data exclusivity period of 12 years and provision for “evergreening”, which requires the granting of patents for drugs that are slightly altered from a previously protected use that can add another 20 years, Santiago said this would lead to monopolies lasting for at least half a century.
In a leak made available on the WikiLeaks whistleblower website yesterday, the updated intellectual property chapter included two amendments that support critics’ argument that the trade deal will restrict consumers’ access to generic medicines.
One such proposal was an article proposed by the US — the main driver of the controversial deal — that will force signatory nations to observe an “automatic monopoly period”, or data exclusivity, of up to 12 years for patented life-saving drugs, such as medicines for diseases like cancer and HIV.
The clause will prevent generic versions of the drugs from entering the market during the period of exclusivity, forcing patients to rely on the brand-name versions, which are usually sold at a much higher cost.
Another proposed change is the removal of a three-step assessment procedure that would theoretically allow member nations to allow cost-cutting generic drugs to compete along brand-name medicines that they license.
This vital tool to give exemptions to cheaper alternatives has been superseded by a subjective evaluation to determine if allowing exceptions to generics would “prejudice” patent holders’ rights.
According to WikiLeaks, which has been responsible for publishing leaked chapters of the controversial free trade deal, this would allow for lobbying and manipulation by pharmaceutical firms to prevent competition from generics.
Malaysian AIDS Council policy manager Fifa Rahman said developed nations like the US, Japan and Singapore are trying to apply high intellectual property standards to countries that are not yet ready for such levels of development.
“Many of these provisions are clear violations of the right to health,” Fifa told Malay Mail Online.
The TPPA is a free trade agreement that has been negotiated by the US, Malaysia and nine other nations as part of the larger Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership since 2010.