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

April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail