China bypasses Big Pharma patents, authorizes low-cost generic drug manufacturing

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: China, Big Pharma, patents

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(NaturalNews) The Chinese government has officially amended its patent laws to allow drug companies to reproduce generic, low-cost versions of expensive, patented drugs, a daring move that is sure to shake up the pharmaceutical industry. According to Reuters Health, information posted at China's State Intellectual Property Office website explains that the Chinese government will now begin issuing compulsory licenses that bypass drug patents during times of state emergencies or other unusual circumstances, or when doing so benefits the interests of the public.

Patent laws are the keys to the kingdom, so to speak, for Big Pharma, as they ensure a steady stream of exorbitant profits from "blockbuster" drugs for many years. In the U.S., these patents last 20 years from the time they are first filed, which results in drug companies being able to mark-up the cost of drugs as much as 569,000 percent higher than the cost of their actual raw materials. (http://www.naturalnews.com/021831.html)

These unreasonably high drug costs leave many patients in a serious financial bind, as the types of drugs administered for serious conditions like cancer can cost upwards of $100,000 or more per year. Many cancer patients who take the conventional treatment route, for instance, either end up having to shuffle treatment costs onto their insurance companies or taxpayers, or else agree to take on the burden of enormous debt.

This type of situation has become particularly problematic in China and several other countries in the East, where the average individual makes far less than the average individual living in the West. So to address this problem, China has taken advantage of World Trade Organization (WTO) guidelines that allow member countries to essentially bypass patent laws in special circumstances.

"In May 2012, China created a change in their IPR (intellectual property rights) legislation to be able to issue compulsory licenses," said Bob Verbruggen, senior advisor for the UNAIDS Asia Pacific office, to Reuters. Verbruggen participated in a recent drug access workshop hosted by the United Nations (UN) where Chinese officials explained the changes to their country's patent laws.

"China is considering further strengthening its legal framework, so as to make use of legal space to produce generic drugs. China's action plan at the workshop seemed to confirm that it intends to become a generic producer (of drugs) for the domestic and international market."

China plans to export generic versions of patented drugs

What this means is that China will have the opportunity to produce low-cost, generic versions of patented drugs, and export them to other countries, including to America. Expensive drugs like the cancer drug tenofovir (Viread), for instance, could soon become available as a much-cheaper "copy" of the original.

Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador, made a similar move in his country back in 2009, although Ecuador has not necessarily become a major exporter of copycat drugs like China plans to do. President Correa declared medicine to be a "human right" that should never be patented, and decided to issue compulsory licenses to generic drug manufacturers (http://www.naturalnews.com/027278_Ecuador_drug_patents.html).

"Open source" medicine is a concept we here at NaturalNews also embrace. And this does not mean that all medicine should be free -- "free" just means that taxpayers are paying for it -- but rather that medicines should be open and available for anyone to produce and sell without fear of infringing a patent. Such a paradigm already largely exists in the dietary and herbal supplement industries, which create product formulas from individual plants, herbs, compounds, and other substances that are not patented or owned by any single corporation or entity.

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