The Battle for Affordable Drugs

June 3, 2013

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"No intellectual property should stand in the way of you, the countries of the world, protecting your people. Do you agree or not?"

Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), made international news when she departed from her prepared remarks to ask this question of the national health ministers gathered at last month's World Health Assembly, the annual WHO meetings. Chan was referring to the contractual restrictions and patent application that some governments and scientists complain are undermining efforts to develop a vaccine against the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), a deadly new virus now emerging in Europe and the Middle East. Chan's question, however, would apply with equal force to any number of the other controversies over intellectual property (IP) now raging in the global health community.

A long simmering fight over patented cancer medications in