Pharma Industry To South Africa: ‘We Are The Goose That Lays The Golden Egg’

Following the South African government’s recent approval of a new intellectual property policy that includes elements aimed at preserving access to medical products that are increasing in popularity among developing countries, the research-based pharmaceutical industry had a few general comments. The message: the policy incorporates some of their concerns but is wrong on “evergreening” patents, and could harm industry, which is “the goose that lays the golden egg.” 

The new IP policy was widely praised by health advocates, but the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of South Africa (IPASA), which includes large pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, Roche, GSK and Merck as members, issued a cautious response to the publication of the long-awaited policy.

IPASA CEO Konji Sebati said in a written response to Health Policy Watch that the content of the published policy was not a surprise given that the association had been actively commenting on clauses in the policy for the last three years. “There were clauses where we had fundamental differences but the government has incorporated some of our concerns,” she said.

In response to the possible effects the policy could have in terms of its application in the country, Sebati said, “South Africa is in dire need [of] foreign direct investment and our President went on a roadshow for exactly that – to attract investors – and so anything that plans to abrogate IP is hardly progressive.”

We read with interest the utterances at a press conference announcing the policy approval by Cabinet. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that patents are still viewed as a barrier to access. When more than 70 percent of medicines on South Africa’s Essential Medicines List are off patent and yet patients do not access them due to dysfunctional healthcare infrastructure systems,” she said.

“We have no issue with substantive search and examination at all because we too do not want frivolous patents granted. However, the anti-patent sentiments that keep popping up on the so-called evergreening, clearly show very poor understanding of incremental innovation and the value that has brought to medicine advances over the years,” Sebati said. “Is there any comparison between the archaic system of taking 2 tablets every 4 hours for 10-14 days instead of one tablet a day for 3 days? A slow-release patch you change monthly? Is there much to argue about that? That is what incremental innovation does and has done: made treatment easy and efficient, less invasive and increasing compliance.”

But the pharmaceutical industry will continue to invest, she said.

“Having said all this and facing these unfortunate sentiments, the research-based pharmaceutical industry will continue undeterred to spend billions on research and development to find medical cures for unmet medical needs for communities,” said Sebati. “As the world continues to face antimicrobial resistance and unprecedented non-communicable diseases, the industry will keep its “eye on the ball” and do what needs to be done, and keep enabling a robust generic industry. We are the goose that lays the golden egg.”

After nine years of development, there were successive moves during the past two weeks in bringing the policy to the light of day. These included the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) publishing the policy shortly after Cabinet – government’s highest decision-making body – adopted the policy.

DTI Minister Rob Davies explained the process to follow. “We will meet in the Inter-Ministerial Committee on IP (IMCIP), we will now assess what in the policy we can implement immediately,” he said. “We won’t be introducing, in this term of Parliament, changes in terms of substantive new laws. That won’t happen in this term of government…. Legislation will have to wait for the new term.”

General elections will be held in South Africa next year.

Read the full story on our sister publication Intellectual Property Watch, here.


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