Tahir Amin, DipLP, co-founder and director of intellectual property of Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge, discusses the role of patent opposition in giving patients access to high-cost drugs.
How did you decide to focus on HIV drugs for your work in patent opposition?
At the time, around 2000, there was this massive uproar by basically people in the developing world who didn’t have access to affordable HIV drugs. I think the prices were around $2000 to $10,000. Then there was a case brought by 40 pharmaceutical companies against the South African government at the time, and out of that grew this access to medicine movement.
At the time, this was basically trying to get cheaper, affordable HIV drugs to low-income people in developing countries. In India, at the time, it was bringing in its new patent law in 2005 and everyone was concerned. Doctors Without Borders was concerned, and called India the “pharmacy of the poor” because it was supplying so much of the HIV medicine, and they were concerned this pipeline would dry up due to patents being granted.
So, we focused on HIV largely because of that movement, and even today, despite all the great work that’s been done, we’re seeing it’s still a problem. I think recently there was an article saying the number of people getting HIV medicines in the [United States] is not as high as it should be. There’s actually going to be a crisis in the middle-income countries in 2020, and a number of people won’t be able to get HIV treatment. So, there’s still so much more to do and the HIV issue is still central to our work despite almost 10 years of the work we started back then.