WASHINGTON – Protesters rallied in front of the Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America Thursday demanding affordable cancer medications for all patients.
The protesters claim the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement with 12 countries including the U.S., will keep them from being able to afford medicine to treat cancer. Most controversy surrounding the TPPis over taxes and high taxes on products made overseas.
The TPP was signed Thursday in New Zealand, but it is still up in the air whether Congress will approve it. The free trade agreement is designed to reduce tariffs and strengthen economic ties between countries.
But the protesters disagree – saying the TPP will lengthen the time that drug companies retain the rights to their high-priced drugs before lower-price generic drugs become available. They say drugs to treat cancer are among them.
“Prices of patented drugs are rising every year … the TPP would make matters worse,” the media release statement for the protest said. “The more monopoly powers policymakers provide to the pharmaceutical industry, the more treatment will have to be rationed.”
Peter Maybarduk, 36, global access to medicine program director for Public Citizen, said the TPP would allow a longer period of protection for pharmaceutical industries to block generic drugs from being sold.
“Patents are 20 years, and they could get time extensions if the TPP was in place,” Maybarduk said. “The TPP has the mechanism to allow pharmaceutical companies to monopolize on certain medical ingredients and can make the monopoly time longer.”
Maybarduk has been following the TPP for many years.
“TPP is about country laws, not just tariffs,” Maybarduk said. “The industry tells the U.S. what they want, and the country say yes, no, or maybe so.”
Zahara Heckscher, 51, a D.C. resident and writing teacher, who has been battling advanced breast cancer for seven years, was at the protest.
“My mother died of breast cancer – I was only 11,” Heckscher said. “I don’t want my 10-year-old son, or any child, to know that pain.” Heckscher said.
“TPP would lock in extra, extended monopolies of five to eight years for biological medicines, delaying the development of life-saving generic medicines,” Hecksher told the crowd. “When you have cancer, you can’t wait eight years. You can’t wait five years – might not even be able to wait one year.”
Emily Sanderson, a 22, an HIV and cancer advocate from Brooklyn, N.Y., felt the the same pain. She attended the rally in remembrance of her mother, who died of breast cancer four years ago.
“She had cancer when I was 4, and because of the treatments available to her she recovered, and I was able to have my mother through my youth and teenage years,” she said. “A right to affordable medicines is a right to life. … It’s absurd to take life away because people are greedy.”
PhRMA’s President and CEO Stephen J. Ubl, released a statement after the agreement was signed.
“PhRMA has serious concerns that the regulatory data protection period for biologics in the TPP falls far short of what is necessary to continue the cycle of innovation that will lead to the breakthrough medicines of the future,” Ubl said.
“The NAM will support the TPP as it will open markets and put manufacturers in a much stronger position to compete in an important and growing region of the world,” NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, said. “Without such an agreement, the United States would be ceding economic leadership to other global powers, letting them set the rules of economic engagement in the region.
One protester tried to enter PhRMA’s office, but security guards stopped her.
The protesters said they will keep fighting so Congress won’t pass the agreement.
“Until no child knows the pain of losing a parent to cancer, and no parent knows the pain of losing a child to cancer – we will keep fighting for access to lifesaving medicines,” Heckscher said.
Reach reporter Erica Y. King at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-408-1492. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
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