Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday July 17th, 2015, 6:19pm

Schakowsky: TPP Could Harm Access To Affordable Medicine

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL,9) is sounding the alarm over the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership's (TPP) potential impacts on affordable prescription drug access.

Schakowsky joined U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT,3) as well as health and consumer advocates on a Friday conference call to highlight leaked intellectual property provisions in the proposed trade deal that could curb access to generic medicines.

One item contained in the TPP's leaked intellectual property chapter would expand the use of "evergreening," a process by which patents are granted for new uses or changes to existing medicines.

Essentially, "evergreening" lets patent holders like pharmaceutical companies "obtain longer periods of exclusivity for just slight changes in existing medications, even if there is no therapeutic benefit," Schakowsky explained, adding that this process "allows monopoly pricing and keeps out competition from generic companies, and drives up prices."

Also at issue is a provision allowing for a 12-year data exclusivity period for biological products, like vaccines. Among other controversial TPP items, data exclusivity periods would also be expanded for new pharmaceutical products and new uses of existing medications. Opponents of such measures say these changes would delay access to generics.

"As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I can't support a trade deal that would raise the cost of drug prices to my constituents and tie my hands in pushing for policies that will lower them," Schakowsky stressed. "Having just completed eight years on the House Intelligence Committee, I can't support a trade deal that will raise the cost of drugs around the world, not just causing preventable illness and death, but increasing global instability."

DeLauro added: "Generics are essential to millions of people's access to life-saving medicine. Instead of keeping them out of the market longer, we should be expanding the access."

Representatives from AARP, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, Doctors Without Borders and Mylan, a global generics and specialty pharmaceutical company, also spoke on the call against the various TPP intellectual property provisions that have been leaked to the public.

The proposed TPP agreement is not public, but members of Congress are allowed to read its text in a room described by Schakowsky as "top secret." Lawmakers cannot publicly share what they have read.

"While I can't comment on the specifics of what I've read, what is clear is that it is U.S. negotiators who are pushing to tilt the balance between intellectual property rights and public health even more toward the brand-name drug companies," Schakowsky said. "Other countries are not asking for changes in the current rules. In fact, many are adamantly opposing them. This is our negotiating position."

As part of the TPP trade agreement, the United States is in negotiations with 11 countries, including Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Brian Honermann, senior research advisor for the American Foundation for AIDS Research, said countries outside of those involved with the TPP could be impacted by the proposed trade deal's intellectual property protections.

"There's an intentional attempt in the TPP to have the ramifications go beyond just the TPP negotiating countries," he said. "There's language in it that specifically looks at enhanced efficacy, which is a requirement in India's patent law that's been very effective at preventing these sort of evergreen practices. These types of agreements that set the defacto international standards that will be used as negotiating templates for the next round of free trade agreements, and the round after that, become the international standard ... And that is going to come at the expense of access to medicines if we pass the TPP in the format that we have seen it." 

Later this month, TPP negotiators will be meeting for trade talks in Maui, Hawaii.

"It may be the last chance we have to protect public health," Schakowsky said of the upcoming trade meeting. "We will do whatever we can to prevent these changes."

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