Innovation and Global Access to Essential Medicines

In many countries, people still do not have access to the medicines they need in order to ensure an acceptable state of health. Switzerland is committed to facilitate access to medicines while safeguarding the protection of intellectual property rights which are drivers for research and innovation.

Innovation and access to medicines: a delicate balance

Access for all to high-quality, affordable medicines is a subject that is being debated intensely at international level. The debate focuses on the scope and duration of patents, and the exclusive commercial rights that are granted to the manufacturer of an active substance. This is where two realities clash.

  • On one hand, the health of people in many countries is affected by limited access to what are known as “essential” medicines. In some countries this shortcoming is due to regulatory issues and to weak health systems, but also to the tariffs imposed on medicines. As a consequence, some medicines are unaffordable to many people. The mechanisms of intellectual property protection are one reason, among others, for these unaffordable prices. 

  • On the other hand, the process of creating a medicine is a long and expensive one, taking ten to fifteen years from the research stage through clinical trials to marketing. Intellectual property rights guarantee a certain return on investment and reinforce the commercial position of the manufacturer for a defined period of time. Conversely, the absence of intellectual property rights would reduce both the incentive to carry out research and the likelihood of discovering new medicines.     

Swiss support for the improvement of access to medicines

The topics of improving access to medicines, strengthening global health research, protecting intellectual property and promoting human rights are priorities for Switzerland and stipulated as explicit goals in its Health Foreign Policy.

Based on this policy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Switzerland has fostered and fosters, among others, a number of initiatives at international level aiming at improving access to medicines:

  • an active support to the drafting process of WHO Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (improvement of R&D and access to medicines relevant to diseases disproportionately affecting populations in low and middle income countries);
  • the publication at national level of a document on the implementation of this Plan of Action in Switzerland and presenting Swiss commitment in this area.
  • a technical and financial support for the follow-up of the report of the Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination (CEWG).

Last modification 11.10.2018

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