After five years of secret negotiations directed and controlled by pharmaceutical lobbyists and drug-company-dominated trade advisory groups, the official text of the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiated by the Obama administration has been released. The text confirms critics’ worst fears – pharmaceutical behemoths like Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, Glaxo-Smith Kline, and Abbot Laboratories have gain expanded monopoly protections and greatly enhanced enforcement rights. Patients, both domestically and abroad, will suffer delayed access to more affordable medicines and biologics. In the U.S., resulting prices increases will lead to even more rationing and burgeoning out-of-pocket payments. In low- and middle-income TPP partners, excessive prices that neither patients nor governments can afford can and will result in death.
In the mind-numbing blur of thousands of pages, killer text can be found. There are express mandates requiring patent term extensions beyond the twenty years required by international law. There are mandatory monopolies on new uses of know medicines and provisions that make it easier to get secondary patents that are only weakly inventive and that also lengthen patent monopolies. There are additional monopolies on the regulatory data submitted by Big Pharma on small molecule medicines, monopolies blocking generic competition that start at five years but can be extended for successive three-year periods. And there are new monopolies on biologic regulatory data that effectively forestall the marketing of biosimilars for at least eight years.
To guard against the risk of price controls and non-listing of their newest high-priced medicines, the drug companies have also gained privileged access to government bodies that make decisions on product listing and reimbursement rates. The pharma-fox is in the cost-cutting hen house.
Ever attentive to the details of profiteering, Big Pharma and Big Bio have also expanded their repertoire of enforcement rights. Mandatory injunctions, expanded damages, and enhanced border measures will be required. Even more dangerously, biopharmaceutical monopolists have now gained unprecedented powers in the DTPP’s Investment Chapter to directly sue governments when their expectations of monopoly profits are thwarted by a government’s patent, data-related, and pricing decisions and rules.
Drug companies are hiding their glee at new monopoly rights by complaining that they didn’t get everything they wanted, especially 12-years of monopoly protection on biologic regulatory data. Every time Big Pharma fails to get every last drop of blood money it wants, it complains that its future research and development projects will wither and die. This is an industry that is consistently one of the top three most profitable in the world. Company valuation and annual sales each exceed a trillion dollars. One out of every five health care dollars in rich countries is spent on medicines and annual price escalation of medicines is consistently many multiples of inflation rates. And in developing country TPP partners like Vietnam, Peru, Chile, Mexico, and Malaysia, government health budgets will be strained and people living with preventable, treatable, and curable illnesses will do without. People living with HIV, hepatitis c, and other diseases will simply not have affordable access to newer medicines embargoed by the TPP’s monopoly protections.
The Obama administration has liked to claim that the TPP represents a new gold standard trade agreement – a trade agreement for the 21st century and for all countries. The TPP is a gold standard … for the hugely profitable and profiteering pharmaceutical industry. But it is a budget buster for governments, insurers, and patients and a disaster for the right to health domestically and abroad.
Many forces are lining up against the TPP in the U.S., including Members of Congress. Trade, environmental, labor, internet-freedom, health, and other constituencies are trying to get their voices heard. Fortunately, the TPP is not yet a done deal, despite its past secrecy and Fast Track legislation that will limit Congressional debate and amendatory authority. Once again AIDS activists know that “pills cost pennies, but greed costs lives.” It’s time to act-up again.