Rebuilding Incentives for Research and Development of Medicines
On July 11, 2019, the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a new resolution on “Access to medicines and vaccines in the context of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” Throughout drafting, this resolution sparked debate about how to “delink” research and development (R&D) incentivization from patent systems. Advocates for “delinkage“ have noted the importance of “adequately rewarding innovation” to encourage R&D but maintain that the patent system can lead to companies setting high drug prices that hinder access to life-saving medicines, vaccines, and diagnostics, particularly in low-income countries. Proponents of the resolution, including Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Senegal, South Africa, and Thailand, noted that “delinkage” was already incorporated in the 2016 version of the resolution, and the current update simply reaffirms global commitment to this effort. However, some high-income countries, including Switzerland, Japan, Australia, and the European Union representative to the HRC have contended that “existing patent systems remain the backbone stimulating R&D investments” and called for significant revisions in the sections pertaining to “delinkage” or alternative R&D incentives. The resolution, including language that encourages “delinkage,” passed following an impassioned appeal by Brazil’s UN ambassador, emphasizing the importance of the HRC in upholding the right to health.