Delink drug prices from R&D costs: UN

As the debate over unaffordable blockbuster drugs such as Sovaldi and Epipen rages on, a landmark report by the United Nations High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines has called for delinking drug prices from research and development (R&D) costs. The report calls for human rights to be placed over intellectual property laws and all countries must freely be able to use flexibilities granted under TRIPS to access affordable medicines.

Calls for sanctions

One of the key recommendations of the report, released in New York on Wednesday, is that countries that threaten, and retaliate against, generic drugs makers in countries such as India for using their entitlements under the TRIPS Agreement will be forced to face significant sanctions. Further, the panel — convened to advise U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon — has called for greater transparency in drug pricing and public health impact assessments in free trade agreements.

“Policy incoherencies arise when legitimate economic, social and political interests and priorities are misaligned or in conflict with the right to health,” said president Ruth Dreifuss. “On the one hand, governments seek the economic benefits of increased trade. On the other, the imperative to respect patents on health technologies could, in certain instances, create obstacles to the public health objectives and the right to health.”


The report recognises the incoherence between the human rights and the intellectual property rules.

“This report gets to the heart of the problem with access to medicines — that the intellectual property rules promoted by the pharmaceutical industry are at odds with the human right to health. If implemented, the report’s recommendations will go a long way towards ensuring all people have access to affordable quality medicines. Access to medicines is not just a poor country problem. The high price of drugs is crippling healthcare systems across the world. Millions of people are suffering and dying because the medicines they need are too expensive. The U.N. should work with governments to ensure that the report’s recommendations are acted upon straight away,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International. The organisation has called on the U.N. panel to explore recommendations such as a ban on intellectual property rules in trade agreements and excluding medicines on national lists or on the WHO List for Essential Medicines from intellectual property rules.