Access to affordable medicines or new review of pharmaceutical patents

The Parliamentary Secretary for Industry and Innovation, Mark Dreyfus, has appointed a panel to review the patenting of pharmaceuticals in Australia.

According to the Terms of Reference, the review:

will evaluate whether the system for pharmaceutical patents is effectively balancing the objectives of securing timely access to competitively priced pharmaceuticals, fostering innovation and supporting employment in research and industry.

Central to this will be an analysis of the pharmaceutical extension of term provisions of the Patents Act 1990 (s.70).

The review will also consider whether there is evidence that the patent system is being used to extend pharmaceutical monopolies at the expense of new market entrants. In doing this, the review will consider how patents for new formulations are granted, consider the treatment of new methods of manufacturing and new uses of known products, the impact of contributory infringement provisions and the impacts of extending patent monopolies on entry of generic pharmaceuticals into the market.

The panel consists of 3 members:

  •  Mr Tony Harris, former NSW Auditor-General and Parliamentary Budget Officer, as Chair
  • Professor Dianne Nicol, Associate Dean, Research, of the University of Tasmania, and
  • Dr Nicholas Gruen, CEO of Lateral Economics.

A public consultation process will form part of the review which appears to include consultation with stakeholders and an opportunity for public submissions.

According to the press announcement, the panel is due to submit its final report by April 2013.

Of course, there is already a review of compulsory licensing under way following the BRCA controversy. I do not know if it is related to this review or not, but back in May, Senator Heffernan questioned the Director-General of IP Australia about what steps the Government may have been taking to recover payments under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to pharmaceutical companies for patents subsequently found invalid. The Senator alleged that the sums involved amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars. The Director-General referred the Senator to the Department of Health and Aging, which has responsibility for these matters.

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