Edited by Graeme B. Dinwoodie
Chapter 14: Access to medicines and the growth of the pharmaceutical industry in Britain
The pharmaceutical industry and its products comprise an exceptionally high proportion of patented discoveries, and important new drugs are invariably patented. During the effective patent life of new drugs, high profits can be made from their sale, and people being treated by those drugs cannot be treated by cheaper substitutes for what become essential medicines. It is really not like substituting margarine for butter; and it is the possibility of unreasonably high profits that is at the heart of this issue. The debate of patents and medicines is not one confined to the present health crises in developing countries. The approach to those issues in a Western context now appears to be engulfed in debates about competition law and not about patentability. But this was not always so. This discussion explores the politics and backdrop to the patenting of medicines during the twentieth century in the United Kingdom. The purpose of this chapter is to show that the questions we face today in relation to many of the issues regarding medical advances and access to those developments were debated before in a distinctly British way. Chemicals, and medicines in particular, were acknowledged as a “method of manufacture”, and so patentable, under the Statute of Monopolies in Boulton v Bull but patents had clearly been granted in relation to “medicine” for some time before the decision was made. The nature of the pharmaceutical industry at this time is simple to express. It did not exist.
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