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Whose Intellect? Whose Property? A Blueprint for Bringing Down the Pharma IP House of Cards

By JD Davids, TAGline Guest Editor and Suraj Madoori, U.S. and Global Health Policy Director, TAG

As the Trump administration makes noise about  the high price of pharmaceuticals while doubling down on its commitment to “protect the engine of American ingenuity,” this issue of TAGline dives deep into the rhetoric and realities of intellectual property  (IP)  protections  and  the current wave of political shenanigans on critical drugs, surfacing the fundamental lies and vested interests that deny medication to those in need in the United States and around the world.

While the horrors of the current administration include wrenching actions that strip entire  communities  of  rights  and liberty, an honest appraisal of the years of  the HIV crisis reveals longstanding practices of both Democratic and Republican leadership who chose to advance pharmaceutical industry interests, rather than look out for the actual needs   of the American people and those worldwide who need essential medications.

We all know the game: excessive levels of intellectual property protection—particularly in developing countries—aggravate, rather than help solve, the problem of access to affordable medicines. We know that extensive patent protection for critical and innovative  medicines  delays  the  introduction  of generic competition that would lower prices. And we’ve seen the United States use threats of sanctions and more to undercut nations that seek to extend treatment access to their populations.

Intellectual property issues—including patents, profits, public financing of research for private gain, large trade deals, and global medication access—have long been a central facet of the fight for lives and justice in the HIV pandemic. As Richard Jefferys reminds us in his exploration of IP issues in HIV cure and vaccine research (see Cure/ Prevention), one of the first definitive wins of direct action HIV/AIDS protest came with the New York Stock Exchange disruption that called for a reduction in the price of AZT—a formerly “orphan” drug then patented by Burroughs Wellcome.

This TAGline takes you behind the scenes of effective and growing advocacy that could change the way the world gets treatment in the years ahead.

You will find compelling articles that examine recent and future debates and considerations in intellectual property and access to medicines, particularly across HIV, TB, and HCV. You’ll emerge with tools and calls to action to help you challenge the use of intellectual property as a strategy to keep affordable medicines out of the hands of those who need them the most, both domestically and globally:

Bryn Gay tells of inspiring and practical tactics from the front lines of the global access to medicine (A2M) movement (see A2M). And she teams up with Claudine Guerra (see Myths) on a tip sheet debunking the top myths of big pharma, arming you to take down the house of cards disguised as President Trump’s “blueprint” on drug pricing.

Suraj  Madoori  and  co-author Khairunisa Suleiman of the Global TB Community Advisory Board bring us into the contested corridors of the UN General Assembly at the first- ever High-Level Meeting on Tuberculosis, (see Declaration), where the U.S. and South Africa squared off on profit vs. access, laying out what needs to happen now to reap the benefits of South Africa’s win.

A2M activists have long argued for delinking the cost of drug development from its ultimate price. Now that one company has tried it, what is there to be learned? Find out more from TAG’s TB Project interview with Marc Destito of Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, developer of delamanid.

And turn on the lights with Annette Gaudino (see Boogeyman) as she reveals that there’s no monster under the bed that’s waiting to pounce on innovation if medication prices are affordable.

Together, these articles serve as a stiff breeze that can take down the intellectual property house of cards. TAG invites you to join us in using these powerful lessons and strategies to win access to medicines for all.