Thai decision to ‘speed up’ drug patents would threaten access to medicines

Global community on access to medicines calls on Thai PM to retain a pro public health stance.

The Thai government, known for its pro health stance on intellectual property issues is considering speeding up the patent process on medicines, which would be a backward step for public health. Today, the AIDS Access Foundation, our partner in Thailand delivered a letter to the Prime Minister, signed by Make Medicines Affordable and 43 supporting organisations from around the world.

Section 44, which gives Prime Minster Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha the power to authorise an order to ‘strengthen public unity and harmony’, is being considered to expedite the approval of over 12,000 patent applications, including over 3,000 applying to medicines, currently bottle-necked in an applications examination process.

“We believe the bottle-neck is caused by unmerited patents being applied for, and expediting them would extend monopolies on essential drugs, therefore allowing exorbitant price increases and threatening public health,” says Chalermsak Kittitrakul, Campaign Director at AIDS Access Foundation in Thailand. “‘Speeding up’ will also also serve to further exacerbate the situation, by signalling to pharmaceutical companies that Thailand is a ‘soft-touch’ thereby encouraging more applications for unmerited patent extensions, known as ever-greening, to the cost of the Thai government and patients.”

The global community recognized Thailand as a model for good practice in successfully scaling up HIV and AIDS treatment – over 300,000 people living with HIV able to access anti-retroviral medicines at no cost under the universal health coverage scheme, and also other high-cost-treatment diseases like cardiovascular diseases and cancers.

Similar to India and Argentina, Thailand developed its own drug patent examination guidelines to ensure that ever-greening patents on medicines would be detected and refused in order to encourage merited pharmaceutical innovation in the country as well as to promote access to essential medicines at affordable prices.

Even as a current role model there is more to be done. A study on ever-greening patents on medicines and its impact in Thailand reflects that over 80% of patent applications on medicines and more than 70% of drug patents in 2000-2010 are ever-greening patents and Thailand would have saved at least 8,000 million baht if those patents were not granted.

Othman Mellouk, the Intellectual Property and Access to Medicines Lead at the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC), says: “This evidence shows that while Thailand’s rate of patent approval is among the top countries, the patent system could still be tightened up even more, to the benefit of the public health budget and public health itself. This is why, as a global community working to make medicines affordable, we have written to the Prime Minister, urging him to retain a public health position and not unravel progress made to date.”

You can read the letter in full here and follow us on Facebook or Twitter for updates.