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February 04, 2016

On World Cancer Day, Cancer Patients Arrested at PhRMA Headquarters to Warn of ‘Death Sentence’ Imposed by Trans-Pacific Partnership Expansion of Medicine Monopolies

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – On World Cancer Day, two cancer patients – supported by health professionals and public health advocates – were arrested as they engaged in civil disobedience to dramatize their life-and-death concerns about the expansion of medicine monopolies pushed by brand-name pharmaceutical companies in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Zahara Heckscher, a 51-year old mother and author from Washington, D.C., who has been in treatment for aggressive breast cancer for seven years, and Hannah Lyon, a 29-year old from California who is in treatment for aggressive cervical cancer, linked arms and refused to leave the lobby of the office building that houses PhRMA, the trade association that has pushed for extreme monopolies in the TPP, while dozens of supporters chanted outside. 

They loudly shouted that the TPP would be a “death sentence” for many cancer patients by keeping life-saving cancer medicines out of reach due to exorbitant monopoly pricing. They shouted until they were arrested by the D.C. police and charged with unlawful entry.

For royalty-free video and photos of Hecksher’s and Lyon’s arrest: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/68eadvlygp3z85i/AABY6Pq1drD9v4WLXoq4-N4ca?dl=0

 “The TPP will effectively take some patients backwards in time to the dark ages of cancer treatment. It will prevent too many people with cancer – and other life threatening illnesses – from accessing the new treatments they need to stay alive,” said Heckscher, explaining why she felt compelled to risk arrest protesting the TPP at PhRMA today. “One of my current medicines would cost me $118,000 per year if I were not in a clinical trial. PhRMA pushed for provisions in the TPP that, if passed, would lock in policies in the U.S. that keep medicine prices obscenely high.”

Lyon echoed Heckscher’s concerns. “I have never spoken in public or engaged in civil disobedience before, but I know at a deeply personal level the life and death stakes for many cancer patients if the TPP is approved,” she said. “Cancer patients do not have the luxury to wait five or eight years for access to affordable medicines while PhRMA establishes extended monopolies to continue to reap outrageous profits. I want Congress to pay attention to the concerns of patients who need affordable medicine instead of catering to PhRMA lobbyists, and reject the TPP.”

Before risking arrest, Heckscher and Lyon were joined in a news conference and demonstration at PhRMA headquarters by other cancer patients, survivors, health professionals and public health advocates, wearing scrubs and surgical masks and holding signs that read “On World Cancer Day, Cancer Patients Say No TPP Death Sentence” and “Shame on PhRMA! No TPP Death Sentence.” Advocates held oversized pill bottles with giant price tags and chanted.

For royalty-free photos of the protest: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/4ad5p5m0qa2yv5t/AAADolARAKk6UE1uFhUmdOzha?dl=0

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, put the struggle against the TPP ‘death sentence’ in a broader context: “Pharmaceutical industry greed has reached heights never seen before. The price of medicines has nothing to do with the cost of making them – and virtually nothing to do with the cost of research and development. Big Pharma companies are price gouging simply because they can. Drug prices are so high because there’s no competition, and because Big Pharma spent more than $1.2 billion on lobbying over the past five years and it employs an army of more than 1,400 registered lobbyists to keep it that way. As part of a comprehensive strategy to reform our broken system, we must fight Big Pharma’s scheme to win still more expanded monopoly protections through the TPP – an effort not just to impose high prices on other countries, but to block our reform agenda and maintain super-high prices in the United States indefinitely.”

Alison Case, a physician with the American Medical Student Association, gave a prospective from health professionals: “The TPP sets a dangerous precedent for our future patients by threatening access to medicines and public health. The provisions on intellectual property, including provisions regarding life-saving biologics used to treat cancer, were designed with heavy industry input in a completely non-transparent way,” she said. “This will only further an environment of high drug costs and frustratingly difficult struggles for patients who need them.”

Hilary McQuie, director of U.S. government policy at HealthGap, noted that the TPP provisions could delay efforts to end the AIDS epidemic. “We now have over 15 million people worldwide getting HIV treatment, and if we keep increasing resources to test and treat at this rate, we will end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. The only way this has been possible was through hard-won struggles to allow for massive generic imports by low and middle income countries. If in place a decade ago, the TPP’s provisions would have prevented member countries the ability to develop the very HIV treatment programs that millions are dependent on today.”

For more information on the TPP and access to medicines, see:

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