Pharmaceutical companies demand longer patents to invest in new antibiotics

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Europe must search for new antibiotics as bacterial resistance increases. It is one of the greatest threats to “global health, food security and development”, according to the World Health Organization.

One of the main concerns is the role of the pharmaceutical industry. While the European Commission is currently trying to revise its pharmaceutical legislation, it has yet to see how the sector will act.

Manufacturers try to defend their interests, not without controversy. They argue that the discovery of new molecules requires more investment in research. However, it remains very expensive and the pharmaceutical industry says that it is not profitable enough for them to invest in this area.

Thus, to promote a greater financial effort for new antibiotics, they are asking for extensions on the exclusivity of the patents they already hold on other more profitable drugs, such as anxiolytics or antidepressants.

Pharmaceutical companies say it’s a health issue.

“As we know, AMR (antimicrobial resistance) is the biggest global pandemic,” says Nathalie Moll, chief executive of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations). The organizations estimate that this will cost “more than a trillion euros per year from 2030”.

“It kills 400,000 people a year in the EU”.

Companies say that with the extension of patents, they would have more money to study new antibiotics to fight infections. “The benefit would be to make sure we can incentivize and bring 2-4 antibiotics to market every year,” Moll says.

Higher costs for citizens

But if this proposal can be beneficial for companies, it is not the case for everyone.

Consumer organizations consider the system scandalous and believe that the extension of patents will have significant costs for citizens and health systems.

“If we continue to apply this exclusivity beyond the expiry of the initial patent, it means that the consumer must pay more. So there is no cheaper product, no generic product, no biosimilar product” , says Monique Goyens. , Director General of the European Consumers’ Bureau (BEUC).

It will also impact the availability and medicines that health systems can afford. “That means (the consumer) has less choice and has to pay more.”

“In some countries, the treatment is simply not available because some pharmaceutical companies only sell in certain countries because it is more profitable there,” Goyens added.

The European Commission told Euronews that “the mechanism is being discussed as part of the review of the pharmaceutical legislation” and that it has “several options on the table”.

Updated European pharmaceutical legislation is expected to be proposed by the end of 2022.

Consumer organizations fear that these discussions will become part of public debates.

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