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Pharmaceuticals

World Trade Organization boosts poor countries’ ability to import generic drugs

Changes aimed at nations without capacity to produce generics

by Glenn Hess
January 26, 2017 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 95, ISSUE 5

Developing countries are expected to have greater access to generic pharmaceuticals under changes the World Trade Organization made in late January.

WTO amended its intellectual property rules to allow developing countries that lack the infrastructure to produce generic drugs the ability to import the low-cost medicines under “compulsory licensing” arrangements. Compulsory licensing involves a government allowing a company to produce a patented product without the consent of the patent owner.

The change adopted by WTO allows exporting countries to grant compulsory licenses to generic firms for the exclusive purpose of making and shipping needed medicines to countries lacking production capacity.

WTO announced on Jan. 23 that the required two-thirds majority of its 164 member states has voted to ratify the change to the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. This marks the first time since the organization opened its doors in 1995 that a WTO accord has been revised.

The original TRIPS agreement allowed governments of developing countries to produce generic medicines for their domestic markets without the patent owners’ consent.

The modification “helps the most vulnerable access the drugs that meet their needs, helping deal with diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria, as well as other epidemics,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo says.

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