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Box office smash hit puts medicine prices in spotlight

Better safeguarding of intellectual property rights urged in competitive market

The recently released hit movie Dying to Survive has prompted discussion around issues related to domestic patent law and the medical needs of the greater public.

The movie is based upon the real-life story of Lu Yong, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002. Not being able to afford the patented medicine needed in China, Lu turned to the overseas market where he was able to obtain the same medicine from India at a much lower cost - and in the process sought to help others who were in a similar situation.

Lu infringed on the patent rights of the pharmaceutical company that first developed the drug.

Lu was arrested by the authorities for promoting counterfeit drugs in 2013. But charges against Lu were eventually dropped following a public outcry from the over 1,000 patients whose lives had been extended by his efforts.

Following screenings of the movie, Chinese audience members have come out in support of preserving life over patents.

"I don't think drug patents should be directly related to human life," audience member Wang Xiaoyu, a new media worker said.

Inventions should be protected, but if the price of a drug gets out of control or is too high for patients after its patent period, the authorities need to control it, she said.

Another audience member, Yuan Jing, a financial industry staff, said: "I know it is a difficult process turning scientific research into something profitable."

The market is able to determine the outcome in this regard, but the law should step in if there is an imbalance between helping people and gross profiteering, he said.

China has had strict patent protection for drugs and a system for the compulsory licensing of patents since Patent Law took effect in 1985, Hu Wenhui, spokesman for the State Intellectual Property Office, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

In terms of IP practice, drug protection is an international problem that requires a moral balance between pharmaceutical enterprises and the public, Hu said.

Novartis AG is a Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company that has developed the cancer drug in question, Gleevec, according to the company's official website.

If the patent is not respected and everyone makes generic drugs, enterprises will have no incentive to create new drugs, causing even greater issues, a former industry executive of Novartis, who wished not to be named, told Southern Weekly.

In fact, in order to balance the global price system, the prices of new drugs produced by multinational pharmaceutical companies will not vary much from country to country and the price of Gleevec in China was priced no higher than in the markets of Europe and the United States, the executive said.

In April, the central government announced a maximum data protection period of six years to be set for innovative chemical drugs, during which the same varieties of drug are not allowed to be marketed by other companies.

A patent protection period of up to five years shall be compensated for the simultaneous application for the listing of innovative drugs in China and abroad.

"The government is implementing some administrative regulations before policies are fully integrated into the legal system in a feasible way. This is to protect innovation," said Wang Ye, an attorney from Beijing Huilong law firm.

The law should keep a balance between protecting companies' investment in drug innovation, social demand for the drug and the drug's impact on general public health, Wang added.


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