Sanofi-Aventis' Executive Jean-Francois Dehecq spoke out this week about the need to protect the interests of the pharmaceutical industry in the world’s northern hemisphere from competition from the south.

Speaking at this year’s Life Sciences Forum BioVision in Lyon, he warned: “The northern hemisphere is going to become poorer and its pharma industry needs protection. In the years to come the market for pharmaceuticals will be in the southern hemisphere.”

Dehecq repeated calls for greater protection of intellectual property and for protection against the export to the developed world of generic copies of blockbuster drugs made in India and elsewhere. “Europe should focus more on the serious public health issue of counterfeit drugs which amount to placebos,” he said.

Good will 'exploited'

Drugs copied in India at low cost were not being developed for local markets but for re-export to compete against the original manufacturer’s versions, he stressed. European pharma companies were being asked to be generous to the southern hemisphere but its good will was being exploited, he claimed. “The attitude towards the southern hemisphere is unbelievable. We need better intellectual property protection or we wont be able to carry out research in future. We are investing 6 billion euros to help improve access to medicines but if anyone can copy our products, that’s not fair.”

Dehecq’s remarks follow similar comments he made earlier this year against generic manufacturers in developing countries, and which drew retorts from the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance that western markets were the not the exclusive preserve of western big pharma. Dehecq’s sensitivity is seen as concerns about market inroads into sales of Plavix (clopidogrel) and Allegra (exofenadine), both now off patent.

Dehecq was primarily at BioVision to promote Sanofi-aventis’ efforts in increasing access to medicines for southern hemisphere countries, supplying them at cost and helping with local manufacturing.

The company has launched a new artesunate-based antimalarial drug produced in Morocco and similar to the one already provided at cost by Novartis. It is also manufacturing drugs for tuberculosis in South Africa, and is also engaged in much good corporate citizen work with the World Health Organisation on sleeping sickness and is producing drugs for leishmaniasis in Brazil. In Mali it has launched a training programme for GPs to treat epilepsy and is helping with an extensive vaccination programme run by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. By Olwen Glynn Owen