Human Rights Council Social Forum 2015: Intervention of Knowledge Ecology International

20 February 2015

In accordance with Human Rights Council resolution A/HRC/RES/26/28, the Human Rights Council convened the 2015 Social Forum at the United Nations Palais des Nations in Geneva from 18-20, February 2015 with a focus on “access to medicines in the context of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including best practices in this regard.”

The program for the Social Forum 2015 can be found here:

On Friday, 20 February 2015, in a roundtable on good practices in promoting access to medicines, James Love (Director, Knowledge Ecology International) delivered the following intervention.

Human Rights Council Social Forum 2015

Thank you for the invitation to speak today. I will get right to my main point. All arguments about access and fairness are pitted against counter arguments that strong intellectual property rights and high prices are necessary for innovation, and that expanded access and greater fairness is a short term benefit that comes at the expense of longer run benefits from innovation.

It is important to recognize the nature of this conflict, and to appreciate and acknowledge that in our current way of thinking about funding R&D, such conflicts do exist, even though they are often exaggerated, such as when countries break patent monopolies for drugs for which there is almost no access but also no revenues, prior to breaking the monopoly.

In our opinion, efforts to regulate drug company monopolies are failing. They are failing to curb abuses of monopolies, and they are weak partly because of the political power that these monopolies create.

Today the United States House of Representatives is collecting comments on new legislative proposals to extend monopolies beyond everything that has been proposed in the past, and next Tuesday, the United States Trade Representative will hold a hearing to decide which developing countries face new demands to expand monopolies and raise drug prices.

Extensive progress has been made in expanding access to treatments for HIV in developing countries, but this is exceptional. For cancer and other illnesses, things are much worse today than in the past, and not only in developing countries.

On a personal note, my wife is a stage 4 cancer patient, alive today because she has had access to cancer drugs that most women in the world cannot afford. The most recent drug, TDM1, is $3,000 per week, too expensive even for reimbursement agencies in the UK. It is a good drug, and for some lucky patients, an amazing drug. It should be available to all breast cancer patients that need it, not only those who have access to insurance willing to pay $3,000 per week.

We favor deep, radical, and transformative reforms, and every day more people are coming to understand that such deep reforms are necessary to access and fairness to be achieved, and to be sustainable.

These reforms concern the delinkage of R&D costs from product prices, and the elimination of product monopolies, in favor of other financing mechanisms, including some combination of research grants and contracts and other subsidies, and delinked financial incentives, including robust funding of large innovation inducement prize funds, such as those that have been proposed for HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other areas.

In 28 June 2009, the Human Rights Council published a paper I wrote, on the right to development.

Paper on right to development: The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases and the right to development (28 June 2009).

In that paper, I was asked to propose criteria that would make the right to development more concrete, and actionable. If I could summarize the main points in that paper, I would say that institutions, including governments, the WHO, etc, should consider if current funding levels and current business models are consistent with success in achieving their own stated objectives, in terms of human rights. If they are not, they have an obligation to explore and eventually move towards new mechanisms and new business models that are consistent with human rights.

It is our opinion that efforts to prop up and defend the current model for funding medical R&D, despite massive evidence of failures in regards to the right to health, is in itself a failure, and one that needs to be corrected.