Now Rep. Henry WaxmanÂ and 26 of his Congressional counterparts are wading into the compulsory licensing fray. They're questioning U.S. Trade Rep Susan Schwab for her downgrading of Thailand after it issued patent-breaking licenses for three drugs. Though Schwab gave various reasons for putting Thailand on the trade watch list, the reps' letter says the move appears to be a condemnation of compulsory licensing itself. So they're asking Schwab to "reaffirm" the World Trade Organization agreement that allows for those compulsory licenses in public health emergencies at each Member country's discretion.
Can you hear the howling already? As you know, compulsory licensing is controversial in the drug industry; after all, it lets countries bypass the patents on brand-name meds so they can buy cheap copycats. Drugmakers are understandably reluctant. But proponents say that otherwise, patients in poor countries might never get access to the lifesaving meds they need. It's a complex issue, and a contentious one, so you can expect the debate to intensify--especially if Congress decides to get more involved.
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