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Pharmaceutical patents

pharmaceutical patentBig pharmaceutical firms have come under fire in the past for using patents. But what would happen if they didn't exist? Read on to find out.

Patents or copyright over the ingredients of particular drugs are like Marmite, depending on whether you’re the pharmaceutical firm or prospective patient, you either love them or hate them.

Why have pharmaceutical patents?

Pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer will apply for a 20-year patent on new drugs to protect their property. They do this because they have a very limited window in which to research and develop their product.

It takes at least 10 years and $800m to bringing a new drug to the market. During that time they make no money and their drug could fail at any stage. That leaves just 10 years in which the company can sell the drug and recoup these costs before the patent expires.

Once it has expired other companies will be able to make their own, cheaper versions, known as generic copies, making the first and more expensive drug unmarketable.

If drug companies are unable to make back the money they put in, these companies will not invest in developing new drugs, thus stopping potentially life-saving drugs entering the market.

What about the patient?

Patients will only benefit from new life-saving drugs if they can afford them. But, while big pharmaceutical companies releasing new drugs onto the market charge high prices, patients in developing countries are dying.

Often it is only when generic copies of these drugs hit the market that tpoorer patients are able to access these all-important medicines.

So, what’s the answer?

Experts are still debating the right answer, but India is taking a new approach- to ignore the patent. As a result it is flooding the market with cheaper generic copies of patented drugs.

Recently US drug company Gilead lost its appeal to stop local Indian companies making cheap copies of its AIDS drug Tenofovir. Thanks to the Indian generic version of the drug, patients in developing countries will be able to obtain the medicine for $800 per year instead of the Gilead price tag of $5,700.

Because of the price difference 75 per cent of the four million people in the world taking medicine for AIDS are using generic copies which were mostly made in India.

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