The World Health Organisation’s Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health has urged pharmaceutical companies to cut their drug prices for developing countries and to avoid seeking patent armoury in those regions in its latest bid to secure access to medicines for the world’s poorest. The news follows a two-year analysis of how governments and industry can best work to address the issues of intellectual property, innovation and public health.

Among the 60 recommendations is a call to governments of developed countries to set out explicit R&D strategies to target health needs in poorer countries, eliminating tariffs on pharmaceutical products, strengthening efforts to improve regulatory standards and improve the quality of pharmaceuticals, fighting counterfeits and putting a lid on the so-called ‘brain drain’ from developing to industrialised nations. Currently 63 products for ‘neglected diseases’ are being developed by the pharmaceutical industry – 16 by industry alone and 47 alongside other public/private partnerships.

However, there is some dissention with regard to the WHO’s efforts to relax the compulsory licensing and intellectual property rules. Says the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations: “There is a negative relationship between the Commission’s positive goals and some of its recommendations. It has never been demonstrated that compulsory licensing will increase R&D – in fact, will only serve as a disincentive with negative health outcomes. Looking across the world, those developing countries that have stronger patent and other IP laws are those that have better health capacities in terms of both access and R&D.”

This was echoed by Philip Stevens, the International Policy Network’s Health Programme Director, who said: “Widespread and indiscriminate compulsory licensing would ruin the R&D environment for diseases of poverty, making it less likely that companies would get involved in the first place. Because the threat of compulsory licensing adds a great degree of political risk to research, the industry will shift away from researching serious diseases and will instead focus more and more on diseases that carry little risk, for example, erectile dysfunction and baldness.”