Pharma’s Latest Trans-Pacific Trade Treaty Negotiating Points — NYT’s Excellent Update From Hawaii

I will commend this fine long form piece to the attention of our readership. [Our own latest backgrounder is here, from June 2015. It is likely true that whatever deal is reached here, will become the default world wide trade standard — in around five years’ time — so, the stakes are truly titanic.] I’ll take no absolutist positions on any of these issues, as I note there are compelling policy and economic arguments, on all sides. But I do think the US Congress ought to harmonize biologics’ patent protection periods — at around seven years. [Sly smile.]


The New York Timesmorning reporting nicely summarizes the manifold pressures being exerted — on all sides — in the battle over what pharma and biologic patent protections, and market access for imitators will look like, if a deal is struck, in the current round, in Lahaina, Hawaii. Most significantly, Australia is seeking only five years of patent protection on biologics, while the US remains at 12. That alone could be a deal breaker. Do go read it all — from this morning’s Gray Lady:

. . . .The complexity of the pharmaceutical issues illustrates how difficult it will be to agree on broad trade rules for 12 countries, including giants like the United States and Japan and developing counties like Peru, Malaysia, communist Vietnam and tiny Brunei. . . .

[M]edicines remain a delicate problem, and if Japan’s last stand is on rice and Canada’s is on dairy, the United States’ might be on pharmaceuticals.

About 5,600 medicines are in development in the 12 TPP countries, with 3,372 of them in the United States, including more than 900 biologics, which are grown from live cells, according to the Senate Finance Committee. The industry contributes nearly $800 billion to the United States economy each year. . . .

Negotiators already seem to be backing away from the hard-line United States position. Observers to the negotiations say the 12-year patent window almost certainly will be scaled back to five to seven years, a move that will anger both the pharmaceutical firms and their allies, and the activists. The Pacific accord is structured so that other countries can join in the future, and the belief on both sides of the pharmaceutical fight is that once 12 nations ratify rules, they will become international standards. . . .

United States law protects pharmaceutical patents for 12 years, allowing drug makers to recoup their research-and-development investments before generic companies can come in with far cheaper versions. Negotiators for the United States say they are obligated to defend American law, even though President Obama has been pushing to shorten the patent protection to seven years. . . .

Onward, on a perfect Thursday — and if I had to bet, I’d wager that the TPP deal will get done — at seven years, on biologics. The costs of a “no treaty” outcome are just too steep, for all nations. Enjoy your Thursdays — one and all — starting to swelter, already here!

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