Bioethics Blogs

Will the Trans-Pacific Partnership hinder access to medicine? Part I

Part I: Intellectual Property Protections

Twelve Pacific Rim countries reached a deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in early October. The full text was finally made public this month after years of secretive negotiations. Historically, trade deals focused narrowly on tariffs. But the TPP is a sprawling modern pact composed of 30 chapters that govern wide-ranging issues from the environment to intellectual property. It has direct consequences on the cost of medicine and the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and domestic regulatory agencies. And it seeks to harmonize law and policy across countries of vastly different circumstances, raising the question: is the TPP’s approach constructive for all of its members?

TPP CountryGDP per capita (US$) in 2013Health expenditure per capita (US$) in 2013
Vietnam$1,909$111
Peru$6,621$354
Malaysia$10,628$423
Mexico$10,201$664
Brunei$39,152$974
Chile$15,742$1,204
Singapore$55,980$2,507
Japan$38,634$3,966
New Zealand$42,409$4,063
Canada$52,305$5,718
Australia$67,473$6,110
United States$52,980$9,146

TPP countries in order of ascending per capita health expenditure. The United States outspends Vietnam in health by more than 80 fold.

One of the key ways the TPP implicates access to medicine is through intellectual property rules that dictate when generic versions of medicines are able to compete with their more expensive branded analogs. The TPP requires participating countries to extend the standard 20-year patent term when there are “unreasonable” regulatory delays on the part of drug approval agencies. It mandates that countries link their drug approval process to patent status by either denying approval to generics while a patent is in effect, or creating a system to assist patent holders pursue remedies from generics companies when such approval is sought.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.