FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Cipro Rip Off

Confronted with the prospect of bioterrorism on a massive scale, the Bush administration and the pharmaceutical industry have colluded to protect patent monopolies rather than the public health.

When the anthrax scare first hit, Cipro was understood to be the drug of choice for treatment. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson said he wanted a stockpile adequate to treat 10 million exposed persons. That meant he needed 1.2 billion Cipro pills (the treatment regimen is two pills for 60 days). Bayer, which holds the disputed patent rights to Cipro in the United States, could not meet that demand in a timely fashion.

For the drugs it was able to supply, Bayer was charging the government $1.89 per pill. The drugstore price was more than $4.50. Indian companies sell a generic version of the same drug for less than 20 cents.

The U.S. government has authority, under existing law, to license generic companies to make on-patent drugs for sale to the government. Those companies could have met supply needs that Bayer was not and is not able to satisfy. Generic competition might also have helped bring prices down, though it is unclear exactly what the government would have to pay Bayer if it bought generic versions of Cipro.

But the Bush administration chose not to exercise this authority. Pharmaceutical industry monopolistic patent protections are so sacrosanct, the administration decided, that even urgent U.S. public health needs do not merit any limitation on patent monopolies.

The administration was motivated in significant part by fear that if it authorized generic production in the United States for Cipro, it would undermine its hand in negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Qatar. There, African and other poor countries are asking for a declaration that the WTO’s intellectual property rules not be interpreted in ways that undermine efforts to advance public health. Above all, they want to clarify their existing right under WTO rules to authorize generic production of on-patent drugs (a practice known as compulsory licensing). The United States, pathetically, is opposing this effort.

With the spotlight shining on Bayer’s price-gouging for Cipro, the Department of Health and Human Services had to take action. It cut a deal with the company to lower Cipro prices, agreeing on a price tag of 95 cents a pill. That supposedly cut-rate price turns out to be twice what the same government, indeed the same government agency, pays the same company for the same drug under another program.

But though inadequate, the price reduction did reflect the U.S. government’s negotiating leverage — leverage that was enhanced by the fact that the government had the authority to turn to generic manufacturers if Bayer refused to cut a deal.

What hypocrisy! At the same time as it leveraged the threat of a compulsory license, the administration is working feverishly in diverse fora — including the WTO and the Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations — to limit poor countries’ effective ability to do compulsory licensing.

It is time to reverse course, and for citizens to demand the government prioritize public health over corporate profit.

In the United States, it is unclear how much Cipro the government should stockpile as a public health measure. Other, off-patent antibiotics may be superior and are cheaper. These other drugs may or may not be effective against all strains of anthrax. What is clear is that intellectual property issues should have no impact on public health judgments made in this context.

Representative Sherrod Brown has introduced legislation, H.R. 3235, the Public Health Emergency Medicines Act, that would reiterate the government’s ability to do compulsory licensing in case of public health emergency (the government currently has this right, without regard to situation of national emergency) and establish that compensation paid to patent holders should be “reasonable.” It lists a variety of criteria to determine reasonability, including how much the patent holder invested and risked in the drug’s development, and how significant the government contribution was to the drug’s research and development. It also would permit the government to authorize generic producers to manufacture on-patent drugs in the United States for export to countries undergoing public health emergencies. The Public Health Emergency Medicines Act should quickly become law.

In international treaty negotiations, it is time for the United States to stop identifying its interests only with those of the brand-name drug manufacturers. The government should immediately cease its shameful opposition to a declaration that the WTO intellectual property agreement should not hinder developing country measures to protect public health. It should agree to accept the few needed clarifications to WTO rules to make compulsory licensing workable in poor countries over the long haul. It should end its sneaky efforts in the Free Trade Area of the Americas and other negotiations to impose technical rules that would impede compulsory licensing. And Congress should deny the administration the fast-track authority it seeks to facilitate negotiation of more trade rules enhancing the brand-name drug companies’ monopoly power.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999).

Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

November 14, 2018
Charles Pierson
Unstoppable: The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and NAFTA
Sam Bahour
Israel’s Mockery of Security: 101 Actions Israel Could Take
Cesar Chelala
How a Bad Environment Impacts Children’s Health
George Ochenski
What Tester’s Win Means
Louisa Willcox
Saving Romania’s Brown Bears, Sharing Lessons About Coxistence, Conservation
George Wuerthner
Alternatives to Wilderness?
Robert Fisk
Izzeldin Abuelaish’s Three Daughters were Killed in Gaza, But He Still Clings to Hope for the Middle East
Dennis Morgan
For What?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Government is Our Teacher
Bill Martin
The Trump Experiment: Liberals and Leftists Unhinged and Around the Bend
Rivera Sun
After the Vote: An Essay of the Man from the North
Jamie McConnell
Allowing Asbestos to Continue Killing
Thomas Knapp
Talkin’ Jim Acosta Hard Pass Blues: Is White House Press Access a Constitutional Right?
Bill Glahn
Snow Day
November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
Lauren Smith
Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary
Joe Emersberger
Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador
Carol Dansereau
Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity
Dave Lindorff
Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time
Dan Corjescu
Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge
Patrick Bond
Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg
Ed Meek
The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext
Binoy Kampmark
Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power
November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
Patrick Howlett-Martin
A Note on the Paris Peace Forum
Joseph G. Ramsey
Does America Have a “Gun Problem”…Or a White Supremacy Capitalist Empire Problem?
Weekend Edition
November 09, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Louis Proyect
Why Democrats Are So Okay With Losing
Andrew Levine
What Now?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Chuck and Nancy’s House of Cards
Brian Cloughley
The Malevolent Hypocrisy of Selective Sanctions
Marc Levy
Welcome, Class of ‘70
David Archuleta Jr.
Facebook Allows Governments to Decide What to Censor
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Zika Scare: a Political and Commercial Maneuver of the Chemical Poisons Industry
Nick Pemberton
When It Comes To Stone Throwing, Democrats Live In A Glass House
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail