Can you put a price tag on your health? Around the world, people are being denied life-​​saving med­i­cines simply because they can’t afford the cost of med­i­cine. But there is a growing move­ment to resist the power of the big phar­ma­ceu­tical com­pa­nies that cur­rently con­trol the global med­i­cine market through monop­o­lies and patents.You might have heard about the recent Supreme Court ruling that restricted the power of cor­po­ra­tions to patent human genes. But another court ruling ear­lier this year in India could have an even deeper impact on the way patents affect access to med­i­cine for the world’s poor. In a law­suit brought by the drug giant Novartis,the Indian Supreme Court denied its appli­ca­tion for a patent on a new ver­sion of a cancer drug, Gleevec, on the grounds that the new for­mula was not unique enough to war­rant a fresh patent. The land­mark ruling basi­cally opened the door for the mass pro­duc­tion of generic ver­sions Gleevec. This means India, which pro­duces generic drugs to mil­lions of patients world­wide (including much of the world’s HIV/​AIDS med­i­cines), can con­tinue to export the generic to the Global South, for a tiny frac­tion of the price of the brand-​​name drug.

But already, multi­na­tionals in Europe and the U.S. are pushing for changes to India’s unique intel­lec­tual prop­erty laws, so they can fur­ther con­sol­i­date their monop­o­lies and keep generics off the market. Two trade deals cur­rently in the works, the Trans Pacific Part­ner­ship, which would cover much of the Pacific Rim, and the EU-​​India free trade agree­ment, would greatly expand the ability of for­eign drug com­pa­nies to trump domestic patent laws. By making it easier for com­pa­nies to extend drug patents repeat­edly, or use so-​​called “data exclu­sivity” and other intel­lec­tual prop­erty laws to main­tain market con­trol, these poli­cies could sharply limit access to med­i­cine for mil­lions across the Global South who can’t pay the brand-​​name price for cru­cial med­ical treatments.

We spoke with Brook Baker of the advo­cacy group Health Global Access Projectto learn more about the future of generic medicines.


  • Brook Baker is a professor at Northeastern University School of Law and Senior Policy Analyst for Health GAP.

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