The two faces of protecting intellectual property rights in the pharmaceutical industry

Exploring the competing priorities of protecting the incentives of pharmaceutical companies vs. giving accesses to generic drugs for people living in developing countries

Access to essential medicine is a critical global health challenge, particularly in developing countries where the health system often lacks the resources and infrastructure necessary to ensuring high-quality care. Generic drugs, which are copies of medicines that are no longer under patent protection, have the potential to improve health outcomes in developing countries. The pharmaceutical industry plays a vital role in the development and production of life-saving medicines. Intellectual property rights such as patents, however, can limit access to essential medicines in countries where there are significant barriers to quality healthcare. This research aims to examine the competing priorities of protecting the incentives of the pharmaceutical industry in creating new drugs, and the accessibility of generic drugs to those living in developing countries.



The challenge

The accessibility and affordability of essential medicine continues to be a major challenge in developing countries. As of 2023, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that there is significant variation in access to generic drugs across different countries in the world. Intellectual property rights work as a necessary incentive to drive innovation for new drugs in the pharmaceutical industry, as companies are motivated by recouping research and development costs as a result of exclusive rights to produce and sell their product. The challenge, however, is that in strengthening intellectual property rights for the pharmaceutical industry, there is a cost in social welfare regarding availability, accessibility and affordability of essential medicine, particularly in developing countries.

The intervention

The study seeks to evaluate how the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), a protocol that increased the intellectual property protections on the availability of essential drugs to developing countries, influences the balance between incentives for introducing new medicines and giving access to generic drugs to developing countries. A comprehensive understanding of the factors that affect the availability, accessibility and affordability of generic drugs will be gathered through a literature review, quantitative analysis of data from pharmaceutical firms and qualitative interviews with stakeholders. This examination will showcase the impact on access to healthcare, health system strengthening, health equity as well as innovation and diffusion.

The potential impact

By identifying barriers to access and potential solutions to improving access to generic drugs, this study has the potential to shape the formulation of policies and implementation of practices aimed at enhancing health outcomes for millions of people. Specifically, the study could provide recommendations on regulatory frameworks that can ensure the quality, safety and efficacy of generic drugs in developing countries. An understanding of how driving innovation can be achieved could contribute to efforts aimed at ensuring universal access to essential medicines and improving health outcomes in developing countries.