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Kyoto as a Model for Medical Innovation

Open Access News points us towards an interesting proposal: a global Medical R&D Treaty (PDF) which obliges signatory nations to spend a certain percentage of GDP in support of core medical research, including the development of biomedical databases and tools, vaccines and drugs, and evaluations of those products. The Treaty, intended to replace current and planned trade agreements that focus on drug patents and prices, also includes a tradable credit scheme explicitly modeled on the Kyoto climate treaty to allow signatories to meet the requirements.

Additional credits can be earned by engaging in research on:

  • R&D for neglected diseases and other priority research projects,
  • "Open public goods," such as free and open source public databases,
  • Projects that involve the transfer of technology and capacity to developing countries,
  • The preservation and dissemination of traditional medical knowledge, and
  • Exceptionally useful public goods.

Open and globally collaborative research is thereby encouraged, without being absolutely required.

A petition (which gives an excellent summary of the treaty requirements) was delivered as a letter yesterday to the World Health Organization, calling on members to sign the treaty. The petition was signed by representatives of the International Red Cross, Oxfam, and Médecins sans Frontières, as well as members of the European Parliament, a wide array of drug research specialists, and intellectual property specialists (including Lawrence Lessig). Perhaps unsurprisingly, large pharmaceutical concerns oppose the treaty. The Financial Times notes:

The letter... is part of a broader debate on how to boost innovative research and development at a time when the "pipelines" of new medicines of the large pharmaceutical groups have been drying up.

It is also designed to address concerns that the current system does not have the incentives to encourage research into finding treatments for many "neglected diseases" in the developing world, which affect millions of people with only modest means to pay for medicines. [...]

Jamie Love, head of the Consumer Project on Technology in Washington, DC, one of the originators of the idea, said the current emphasis placed on intellectual property protection of drug patents by the World Trade Organisation did little directly to find new cures.

"The aim of this treaty is to refocus the debate away from drug prices and patents, and towards innovation and access," he said. "We want to shift more attention to the priority-setting process."

This is interesting on a number of fronts. Clearly the success of this treaty would be a major step forward in the development of a broad range of treatments, and the mechanisms encouraging open collaboration would help to ensure that many (if not most) of those treatments are in the public domain. The inclusion of the preservation and dissemination of traditional medical knowledge as a key goal is a welcome addition, as well; efforts to build cultural databases, while underway, remain poorly-funded. But it's the use of a Kyoto-inspired credit system that is the most intriguing. Carbon credit trading was included in Kyoto at the insistence of the US, and was initially not well-regarded by others working on the treaty. It may, however, become the signal element of Kyoto, and a model for future international negotiations. If this treaty is signed -- and it's unclear for now how much support there will be -- it will be interesting to see if trade in "innovation credits" becomes as hot a market as trade in carbon credits looks to become.

Comments (3)

I think it's a great idea that the mainstream could easily get behind if it gained enough mindshare.

Any idea if the media is reporting on this?

People with connections, now is a good time to ask for a favour! It's also a good time to write a letter to journalists and editors.

Jamais Cascio:

As far as I can tell from Google News, the only mainstream (or even non-mainstream) news site reporting this is the Financial Times.

You're absolutely right: this needs much wider play.

I did what I could to spread the word about this, but that's not much (my blog, a diary on dKos..).

I'll also print this article and give it to my International Human Rights teacher. I'm pretty sure he'll be very interested, and maybe he knows people who can look deeper into this...


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