The UN High Level Report on Access to medicines threatens the nascent boom in biopharmaceutical R&D in middle-income such as India and China, according to Geneva Network, a UK-based research organisation working on international trade, health and intellectual property issues.

Since China and India upgraded their protection for intellectual property in the mid 2000s, their private sectors have committed ever-greater sums to R&D, and carved out new niches in biopharmaceutical innovation, often in collaboration with international partners.

The UNHLP threatens to derail this important development.

The overall thrust of the UNHLP’s recommendations is to weaken IPRs. This fails to take account of modern ways in which biopharma R&D is conducted, and the importance of IP in the process.

Innovation no longer starts and finishes inside one ‘vertically-integrated’ pharmaceutical company. Now, big biopharmaceutical companies collaborate with small companies, academia and the public sector at all stages of the R&D cycle, often across borders.

Sharing valuable knowledge is the basis of this new, networked innovation model. Strong global IP rules are fundamental, as they provide the legal framework that allows valuable knowledge to be safely shared.

Without IP, Asian researchers, entrepreneurs and companies would be unable to participate in a meaningful way.

By turning the clock back to the pre-TRIPS era, the UNHLP would cut India and China off from the new world of networked innovation; smaller countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia would not even get a foothold.

That is not conducive to economic development, or the future needs of patients.

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