TPP deal could drive up the cost of medicine worldwide, say health advocates

Canada and 11 other Pacific Rim nations reached a deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Monday that will affect roughly 40 per cent of the world’s economy, but health advocates say it could raise the price of live-saving drugs by delaying generic competition.

Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said the new agreement will make it harder for companies to develop drugs based on previously available research, and will lengthen patent protections.

“It will be more difficult for competition and more easy for pharmaceutical companies to increase profits,” Judit Rius told Global News from New York. “Consumers need access to affordable medicines; innovation without access is meaningless.”

READ MORE: What Canadians should know about the TPP deal

Although the final text of the agreement will not be available for another month, the tentative deal will see pharmaceuticals, including cell-based biologics, have patent-style protections for eight years.

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Biologics are drugs made from biological sources, including vaccines, anti-toxins, proteins, and monoclonal antibodies, and are used in treatments for Crohn’s disease, arthritis, HIV, Hepatitis C, Ebola and cancer.

According to the Brookings Institution, biologics cost on average 22 times more than nonbiologic drugs as they are more complex and more difficult and expensive to make.

Due to the high prices of the drugs, companies create near-copies or “biosimilars,” similar to generic pharmaceuticals. U.S. drug makers had originally pushed for 12 years of data exclusivity protection from competitors for biologics.

READ MORE: Will the TPP bring change to countries with poor labour records?

Jim Keon, president of the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association, said in a statement Monday that the while the CPGA welcomed that agreement there were still concerns about expansive “intellectual property provisions.”

“Had they been adopted, the provisions would have delayed competition from lower-cost generic prescription medicines and increased health-care costs for Canadians,” Keon said.

“CGPA is concerned regarding the expansive intellectual property provisions that have been included in the TPP agreement, and notes the provisions will have a negative impact on access to medicines for some TPP partners.”

READ MORE: TPP will open markets, but may see plants closed

While Canada offers five years around protecting pharmaceutical patents, the protections in other countries in the TPP deal range from zero in Brunei to eight years in Japan.

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“Countries like Peru, Vietnam, Mexico, Malaysia, the four of them will have to change their national laws and incorporate these new obligations to protect pharmaceutical company’s profits,” Rius said.

Christopher McCabe, research chair in emergency medicine research at the University of Alberta, said the TPP deal could drive up “the long term pharma bill for health care systems not just in Canada but for all of the countries that are going to be signatories to this agreement.”

“Either we will have to pay more for these drugs in the long term or the number of patients who we will be able to fund having access to them will remain narrower than it otherwise would have. It’s actually damaging to access.”

*With files from Heather Yourex-West

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