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Expert calls for new global drug plan to aid poor

A US expert is coming to Dublin to promote his idea for saving 50,000 lives a day in developing countries.

Thomas Pogge, Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, is proposing to create a new type of pharmaceutical patent which would reward drug companies for tackling the world's deadliest diseases.

He said it is a concrete, feasible, and politically realistic way of ensuring that research was concentrated on stopping the deaths of 18 million people a year.

"Vastly more money and human ingenuity are invested toward finding remedies for hair loss and pimples, and toward inventing new disorders and ways to treat them, than toward developing effective medicines for diseases that are decimating the world's poor."

According to Prof Pogge, malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, and tuberculosis account for 21pc of global diseases but receive only 0.31pc of all public and private health research funds. Prof Pogge said there were no incentives for drug companies to develop such medicines because even with 20-year-patent protection, people in poor countries could not afford to pay the high prices needed to recoup their investment. Although they could opt to sell drugs at a cheaper price in poorer countries -- as they do with some anti-retroviral drugs -- this would up the risk of the drugs being smuggled back to rich countries.

Prof Pogge is proposing an alternative reward system -- a new patent which would see drug companies given public funds in proportion to the impact their new drug has. If the drug saved two million lives, it would attract more public funding than one which saved one million lives.

Stimulating

"By offering such alternative multi-year patents, we would be stimulating additional pharmaceutical research especially into serious diseases that are common among the global poor," Prof Pogge said.

Under the patent proposal, drug companies would get more public funds if 'copycat' (generic) drugs were developed, because this would make them more accessible to the poor and would increase the number of lives being saved.

Prof Pogge is due to speak about his patent proposal in Trinity College today and at a conference on global health in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin tomorrow.

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