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August 26, 2014

TPP: Expansive Rights for Big Pharma, Expensive Medicines for U.S. Consumers

This is the second in a three-part series on how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could increase medicine prices in the United States.  Click here for the first post's introduction to the problem. 

Leaked draft intellectual property texts for the TPP reveal broad monopoly protections for pharmaceutical corporations, which elevate the costs of medicines and medical procedures. Inserting these sweeping corporate privileges into the pact would undermine U.S. efforts to make healthcare more affordable.

Some of the leaked TPP monopoly protections for Big Pharma could require scrapping the Obama administration proposal to save more than $4 billion on biologic medicines. Biologics – the latest generation of drugs to combat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases – are exceptionally expensive, costing approximately 22 times more than conventional medicines.

Under U.S. law, pharmaceutical corporations enjoy monopoly protections for biologic drugs, even in the absence of a patent, for a 12-year period of “exclusivity.” During these 12 years, the Food and Drug Administration is prohibited from approving more affordable versions of the drugs, inflating the cost of these life-saving medicines as pharmaceutical firms accrue monopoly profits.

To lower the exorbitant prices and the resulting burden on programs like Medicare and Medicaid, the Obama administration’s 2015 budget would reduce the exclusivity period for biologics from 12 to seven years. The administration estimates this would save taxpayers more than $4.2 billion over the next decade just for federal programs.

However, at the request of Big Pharma, U.S. trade negotiators are demanding the 12-year exclusivity requirement for biologics in the TPP. This would lock into place pharmaceutical firms’ lengthy monopolies here at home. That is, Obama administration negotiators would effectively scrap the administration’s own proposal to save billions in unnecessary healthcare costs and lock in rules that would forbid future presidents or Congresses from doing so.

Investor Privileges: Empowering Big Pharma to Directly Attack U.S. Health Policies

Another TPP text - the leaked draft investment chapter - reveals that the deal would grant foreign firms the power to skirt domestic courts, drag the U.S. government before extrajudicial tribunals, and directly challenge patent laws and medicine cost containment policies as violations of their new TPP foreign investor “rights.”

The tribunals, comprised of three private attorneys, would be authorized to order unlimited taxpayer compensation for domestic policies perceived as undermining pharmaceutical corporations’ “expected future profits.” Effectively, this system would elevate individual pharmaceutical firms to the same status as the countries that may sign the TPP, empowering such firms to privately enforce the public agreement.

Such extreme “investor-state” rules have been included in past U.S. “free trade” agreements, forcing taxpayers to pay firms more than $430 million for toxics bans, land-use rules, water and timber policies and more. Just under U.S. pacts, more than $38 billion is pending in corporate claims against patent policies, pollution cleanup requirements, climate and energy laws, and other public interest polices.

This includes a $500 million claim that U.S. pharmaceutical corporation Eli Lilly launched in 2013 against Canada’s legal standard for granting patents. The firm is demanding compensation because Canadian courts enforcing Canadian patent law ruled that two of Eli Lilly’s medicines failed to meet the Canadian standard to obtain a patent, which requires demonstrating a drug’s promised utility. This is the first attempt by a patent-holding pharmaceutical firm to use the extraordinary investor privileges provided by U.S. “trade” agreements as a tool to push for greater monopoly patent protections.

The TPP would vastly expand the investor-state threat to U.S. public health policies, given the thousands of corporations based in TPP countries that would be newly empowered to launch cases against U.S. laws on behalf of any of their more than 14,000 U.S. subsidiaries

Stay tuned for post #3 on yet another way that the TPP could limit the U.S. government's ability to control rising drug costs. 

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Comments

guy hollyday

Granting pharmaceutical corporations ways to make drugs more expensive goes directly contrary to the efforts of the Affordable Care Act. It would mean more appeals, more lawyers. Don't do it.
Respectfully,
Guy Hollyday

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