Trade pact could hurt AIDS fight, critics say

U.S. firms seek protection for brand-name drugs; generics might cost more

WASHINGTON – If drug companies get their way in protecting brand-name drugs in a new international trade deal, critics fear that millions of people with AIDS in poor countries will go untreated, losing access to cheaper generics that could keep them alive.

The drug makers say they need to protect their industry, which supports 4 million U.S. jobs, and their investment in research. It costs an average of $1.2 billion and takes from 10 to 15 years to win approval from the U.S. government for a single new medicine, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the lobbying arm of many drug companies.

Opponents counter that more generic drugs are needed for the global fight against AIDS. And they say that fattening the profits of the large drug companies only undermines that effort.

The debate has emerged as a key issue as negotiators from the U.S. and 10 other countries meet privately to wrap up details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, poised to become the largest trade deal in U.S. history.

The talks, which concluded their 14th round in Leesburg, Va., last month, involve a tussle over how far to go to protect intellectual property rights and, with it, the finances of brand-name drug companies.

“We are basically facing a treatment time bomb – and what the U.S. is demanding here will make the situation much worse,” said Judit Rius Sanjuan, a lawyer from Spain who is the U.S. manager for the access campaign of Doctors Without Borders. It’s an international humanitarian organization that won the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize and now provides health care in nearly 70 countries.

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