Access to Essential Medicines: Public Health and International Law
INCENTIVES FOR GLOBAL PUBLIC HEALTH: PATENT LAW AND ACCESS TO ESSENTIAL MEDICINES, Thomas Pogge, Matthew Rimmer, & Kim Rubenstein, (eds.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010
Posted: 9 Jul 2009
Historically, there have been intense conflicts over the ownership and exploitation of pharmaceutical drugs and diagnostic tests dealing with infectious diseases.
Throughout the 1980’s, there was much scientific, legal, and ethical debate about which scientific group should be credited with the discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus, and the invention of the blood test devised to detect antibodies to the virus. In May 1983, Luc Montagnier, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, and other French scientists from the Pasteur Institute in Paris, published a paper in Science, detailing the discovery of a virus called lymphadenopathy (LAV). A scientific rival, Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute, identified the AIDS virus and published his findings in the May 1984 issue of Science. In May 1985, the United States Patent and Trademark Office awarded the American patent for the AIDS blood test to Gallo and the Department of Health and Human Services. In December 1985, the Institut Pasteur sued the Department of Health and Human Services, contending that the French were the first to identify the AIDS virus and to invent the antibody test, and that the American test was dependent upon the French research.
In March 1987, an agreement was brokered by President Ronald Reagan and French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, which resulted in the Department of Health and Human Services and the Institut Pasteur sharing the patent rights to the blood test for AIDS. In 1992, the Federal Office of Research Integrity found that Gallo had committed scientific misconduct, by falsely reporting facts in his 1984 scientific paper. A subsequent investigation by the National Institutes of Health, the United States Congress, and the US attorney-general cleared Gallo of any wrongdoing.
In 1994, the United States government and French government renegotiated their agreement regarding the AIDS blood test patent, in order to make the distribution of royalties more equitable...
The dispute between Luc Montagnier and Robert Gallo was not an isolated case of scientific rivalry and patent races. It foreshadowed further patent conflicts over research in respect of HIV/AIDS. Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court of Australia diagnosed a clash between two distinct schools of philosophy - ‘scientists of the old school... working by serendipity with free sharing of knowledge and research’, and ‘those of the new school who saw the hope of progress as lying in huge investments in scientific experimentation.’ Indeed, the patent race between Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier has been a precursor to broader trade disputes over access to essential medicines in the 1990s and 2000s. The dispute between Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier captures in microcosm a number of themes of this book: the fierce competition for intellectual property rights; the clash between sovereign states over access to medicines; the pressing need to defend human rights, particularly the right to health; and the need for new incentives for research and development to combat infectious diseases as both an international and domestic issue.
Keywords: Access to Essential Medicines, International Trade Law, Innovation, Intellectual Property, Human Rights, Public Law, International Law
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