India’s Supreme Court has ruled that the patent sought by the Swiss company Novartis for the cancer drug Glivec (known as Gleevec in the USA) did not merit a separate patent because it did not differ sufficiently from earlier versions. Critics say that the majority of drug patents awarded in the USA are for tiny changes, often providing patients with few meaningful benefits while allowing drug companies to continue charging high prices for years beyond the original patent life. Patents usually guarantee exclusive sales for 20 years before other firms are allowed to make cheaper copies of the original drug. Glivec can cost as much as $70,000 a year, while Indian generic versions cost around $2,500 a year, and is an effective treatment for some forms of leukaemia and widely recognised as one of the most important medical discoveries in decades.
The ruling is warmly welcomed by the Initiative for Medicines, Access and Knowledge (a group based in New York that works on patent cases to foster access to drugs), Doctors Without Borders, and the Cancer Patients Aid Association. Meanwhile the pharmaceutical companies contend that the profits they reap are essential to their ability to develop and manufacture innovative medicines. However, the top drug companies listed in Fortune 500 (the annual ranking of America’s largest corporations) in 2001 averaged a net profit of 18.5% compared to the 3.3% average over all other sectors, and the only other sector that came close to this was commercial banking, with net profits of 13.5% (Angell, Marcia: The truth about the drug companies (NY: Random House, 2005))
A former dairy farmer has partnered with local wastewater haulers to build a plant in Wisconsin which will convert wastewater from five local cheese factories into solid fertiliser and methane gas. The methane will be burned to generate 3.2 megawatts of electricity; enough to power 3,000 homes.
The facility is primarily concerned with wastewater treatment. While the untreated rinse water can be used as a fertiliser, it runs off into rivers and lakes when the ground is frozen during the winter months, causing pollution. Using a process of anaerobic digestion, GreenWhey will process the wastewater for the cheese factories, produce fertiliser for the farms and supply renewable energy to homes. A win, win, win project!
Thai authorities and the National Revolution Front (also known as BRN) have opened peace talks aimed at ending almost a decade of unrest in the country’s far south in which more than 5,000 people have been killed. While many issues will need to be resolved, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak described it as a “solid demonstration of the common resolve to find and establish an enduring peace in southern Thailand”. The first round of talks will focus on how both sides can co-operate.
Meanwhile, Philippine officials and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front say that a peace pact could be reached as early as next month despite unresolved issues, including the delicate task of disarming the 11,000-strong guerrilla force.
Also, It’s Good News Week is delighted to have been invited to join Peace One Day as a NGO Coalition member. Founded in 1999 by Jeremy Gilley, Peace One Day is a non-profit organisation which aims to make 21 September, an annual day of global unity. In 2001 member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted the first ever annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence on 21 September – Peace Day.
Studies recently carried out by Oxford University and the United Nations report a brighter global picture than could ever have been predicted. Worldwide extreme income poverty has plunged from 43 per cent in 1990 to just 22 per cent in 2008. They predict that countries among the most impoverished could see acute poverty eradicated within 20 years if they continue at present rates; deprivation in Rwanda, Nepal and Bangladesh could disappear within the lifetime of present generations, with Ghana, Tanzania, Cambodia and Bolivia following on close behind. “The world is witnessing an epochal ‘global rebalancing’ with higher growth in at least 40 poor countries” concludes the UN report.
Underpinning this poverty reduction has been developing countries’ increasing share of global trade, with international and national aid and development projects investing in schools, health clinics, housing, infrastructure and improved access to water. According to Helen Clark, UN Development Programme Administrator, these countries are investing in their people.