When Martin Shkreli raised the price of a medicine his company acquired from $13.50 per pill to $750 overnight last week, it ignited the internet's collective rage. But similarly steep price hikes for certain kinds of drugs may become the norm around the globe once the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal is signed, a new report from the South Centre, an intergovernmental policy think tank based in Geneva, concludes.
"A study by Australian and US researchers estimated that, in Vietnam, the government would only be able to provide anti-retroviral therapy to 30 percent of people in living with HIV (down from its current rate of 68 per cent)," the report states, "since the cost per person per year of treatment would increase to $501 under the US proposal from its current level of $127."
Previous reports have noted that the TPP may raise drug prices in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, but the South Centre study shows that the TPP could also have wide-reaching effects on poorer nations that sign the agreement too.
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The case may very well be the same even in more developed countries such as Canada, the report goes on to say, which faced an increase in drug prices as a result of previous free trade agreements.
The TPP, based on what we know from leaked drafts, would apply "one size fits all" patent rules on every signing country. The stipulations relating to intellectual property will benefit the pharmaceutical industry by extending patent terms on drugs, hindering the approval of generic versions by making clinical test data exclusive to drug makers, and require new patents be granted for minor alterations to existing formulas, the South Centre report states.
Basically, any country that signs the TPP will have to follow the US' lead on pharmaceuticals, whether it benefits them or not.
The TPP has been in talks among countries that support it since 2012, with numerous hang ups along the way including disputes over dairy production and car parts holding it back. Negotiations are currently ongoing in Atlanta, however, with some commentators suggesting that an agreement may finally be near at hand. This is, of course, despite the fact that Canada is supposed to refrain from signing any binding agreements due to the current election.
If the TPP passes in its current form, Shkreli's antics may just be a taste of what's to come.
Correction, Sept. 29: An earlier headline referred to Shkreli as a "Pharmaceutical Patent Gremlin." While Shkreli's company acquired some rights to daraprim, the drug's patent expired decades ago. The headline has been updated to reflect this. Motherboard regrets the error.