Drop in intellectual property ranking reversible, says think tank

azrul-malaysiaKUALA LUMPUR: The drop in Malaysia’s ranking in the sixth annual US Chamber International Intellectual Property (IP) Index can be reversed, the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy said today.

Azrul Mohd Khalib, chief executive of the think tank, said, however, that the drop in ranking as a result of last year’s decision to implement a government-use licence to produce a generic version of a Hepatitis C drug, needed to be taken seriously.

It was reported on Feb 8, that Malaysia dropped four spots to 23rd place in the IP Index which ranked 50 countries.

“The issuing of a compulsory licence in 2017 has greatly damaged Malaysia’s national IP environment and risks undermining much of the progress made since 2004, the last time the government issued a similar licence,” the IP Index report said.

Malaysia, it said, had issued a compulsory licence for ‘sofosbuvir’, a medicine to treat Hepatitis C developed by Gilead Sciences Inc. It means that the licensee can produce a patented product without the consent of the patent owner.

The health ministry had said last year that its decision followed failed efforts to be included in the UN-backed Medicine Patent Pool and price negotiations with the drug’s patent holder.

Commenting on this, Azrul said: “Last year, we predicted that Malaysia’s reputation in intellectual property rights, both at home and abroad, would take a serious hit due to this risky move.”

“Despite this negative setback, the situation is reversible. It represents an opportunity to reconsider the offer of a voluntary licence for the drug which remains available for the government. Taking advantage of the voluntary licence would make it possible to develop, produce and provide an affordable cure for Hepatitis C in Malaysia without resorting to government-use or compulsory licences.”

He said Malaysia had already demonstrated its resolve and commitment to doing what was necessary to deal with the threat of the disease and to ensure best access to life-saving treatment for people who needed it.

This, Azrul said, should be used as leverage by the government to negotiate for improved and significant price concessions and technical support.

“We need a reasonable long-term and sustainable approach to ensuring treatment access for Hepatitis C. It can be done,” he said.

He warned that Malaysia’s progress and achievements in encouraging, cultivating and boosting home-grown innovation were also at risk.

“If IP protection is perceived to be weak or enforcement is seen to be inconsistent and poor, companies will be unlikely to invest or enter into local partnerships. Our own research or innovation projects could stagnate or move abroad. Such concerns and fears could jeopardise efforts such as involvement in future clinical trials and launching of innovative new drugs into the country. As a result, we might not have the best that modern medicine can offer to fight diseases and treat people.

“The challenges faced in ensuring fair and affordable access to effective treatment and medicines are real, including dealing with an overburdened healthcare system and ensuring sufficient financing. But to overcome them, we need to send the right message that we are open to working together in partnership,” Azrul added.