EU seeks to bypass patents in emergency measures to boost drugs access

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In this news, we discuss the EU seeks to bypass patents in emergency measures to boost drugs access.

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union plans to take tough measures to improve its access to medicines, ranging from bypassing patent rights in emergencies to production in Europe, according to EU documents released on Wednesday.

Possible measures aim to address chronic drug shortages that have hampered the block for years and have become more severe since the COVID-19 pandemic and associated trade disruptions and drug export bans.

The European Union Commission wants faster procedures during crises to produce generic versions of medicines in EU states without the consent of patent holders, says an EU document.

So-called compulsory licenses are permitted under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules for emergencies as a departure from normal regulations and could be applied during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Commission believes it is necessary to ensure that effective compulsory licensing systems are in place, to be used as a last resort and as a safety net, when all other efforts to make intellectual property (intellectual property) available have failed, ”document released Wednesday said.

Ironically, the proposal is part of an EU action plan on intellectual property which mainly aims to strengthen the patent protection of EU companies against foreign players.

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers and campaigners urged the EU to use the WTO waiver to access potential vaccines and drugs against the novel coronavirus, most of which have been developed outside the 27-nation bloc.

The EU executive has so far refused to invoke the waiver and has entered into multibillion-euro deals with drugmakers to get injections and treatment for COVID-19.

However, the COVID-19 emergency has led to a review of existing procedures, which largely fall within the competence of national governments in the EU.

‘FAST-TRACK PROCEDURES’

“The Commission calls on Member States to ensure that the tools at their disposal are as effective as possible; for example, by putting in place accelerated procedures for the issuance of compulsory licenses in emergency situations, ”the document states.

To avoid trade and innovation distortions, the Commission is also considering creating an emergency coordination mechanism that would be triggered at short notice when an EU government wishes to issue a compulsory license.

The Commission also said on Wednesday that after a consultation process with pharmaceutical companies next year, it would make proposals to identify vulnerabilities in global supply chains.

This could encourage manufacturers to shift the production of drugs to Europe.

The Commission said it was important “to assess whether manufacturing capacity for certain critical drugs may be required in the EU”, adding that any action would be in line with WTO rules.

The possible measures are part of a broader European strategy released on Wednesday. The plans are aimed at increasing access to cheap drugs and boosting competition, including through wider use of generics that could affect the revenues of major drug makers, according to a Reuters report earlier this week.

Report by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Edited by David Goodman

Original © Thomson Reuters

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