A Murderous Business

BERLIN/INGELHEIM |

BERLIN/INGELHEIM (Own report) - The German G8 initiative in favor of a "Protection of Intellectual Property" threatens the possibility of medical treatment for thousands of HIV infected children. At the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, the German government is seeking stronger patent protection for German industrial products, particularly at the expense of competitors to German firms such as China and India, who are successfully producing lower costing copies. A sophisticated patent system is supposed to put an end to this and guarantee German firms further competitive advantages and additional high profits. In the pharmaceutical domain, this intention is deadly. The German firm, Boehringer Ingelheim, has applied in India for patent protection on a children's medicine to fight HIV/AIDS. The price of this medicine will skyrocket, if this application is granted. Medical care at western standards is already hardly affordable for poverty stricken patients in developing countries. A further rise in the price of medicine would mean certain death. Already in the past, Boehringer Ingelheim has been accused of inhumane business practices. Health policy initiatives are calling for protests against this pharmaceutical giant. Boehringer entertains very good relations in the German political circles comprising the coalition parties in the government.

Prosperity and Employment

In a speech she held before the "European Patent Forum" in Munich in mid-April, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expounded on the motives behind the German patent protection initiative at the G8 summit. According to her reasoning, "Europe," as the "exporter of high quality technological products" is particularly dependent upon a "functioning system to protect intellectual property." Referring to the use of the newest research findings by threshold nations, the chancellor said that to insure "prosperity and employment" at home, it must be prevented that "know-how is drained and misused in an uncontrolled manner." With Germany being the "largest national economy in Europe (...) it naturally views this question with great importance." Angela Merkel left no doubts about the intended point of impact of her initiative: she said it was a "gigantic problem" that so-called threshold nations (in prominence among them are China and India) not only are "copying" western products, they are even founding "their own innovative economic branches."[1]

"Theft"

According to the Chancellor, the objective is to have "enforceable basic regulations on a global scale" that prohibit the threshold nations from using key results of western research. This is why Berlin, using the framework of its G8 chairmanship, has put the question of the "protection of intellectual property" on the agenda of the summit in Heiligendamm, where negotiations will take place without representatives of former colonized nations, such as China and India. The research effort expended by German firms has to "pay off," insists Angela Merkel. The firms need the "security" for "commercializing" their products, without fear that they will be "stolen."[2]

Deadly Consequences

Since some time the German government's forced patent policy in the pharmaceutical sector has been having deadly consequences. In Southern Africa alone, 1.8 million HIV/AIDS infected children are deprived sufficient medical care, because the price for the necessary medicine are kept artificially high through license and patent regulations. On the other hand each medicine bought renders the western producers an extravagant extra profit in patent royalties. Currently the German pharmaceutical concern, Boehringer Ingelheim has placed a demand to Indian officials for patent protection for its drug for treating AIDS in children, that is marketed under the name "Viramune." Indian companies are producing a much cheaper version composed of the same elements (Generikum) for export to Southern Africa. Should the Boehringer demand be accorded, the Indians will have to cease their export - with fatal consequences for the children concerned. At the same time the German company is attempting through pressure on intermediaries to drive the Indian competition out of business. For example, Boehringer has threatened to sue Kenyan pharmaceutical wholesalers and pharmacies if they persist in importing the much lower priced Indian products.[3]

Success Product

The no holds barred battle over patents has a double background. On the one hand the medicine with the brand name "Viramune" is among the most profitable products Boehringer Ingelheim has in its inventory. The production of brand named prescription medicines is a key element of the company's business, which worldwide made sales amounting to 10.57 billion Euros in 2006.[4] And within this business sector, the profits brought in by the sales of HIV/AIDS medicines accounted for 4.6 percent in 2005. "Viramune" alone brought the company 288 million Euros. Of Boehringer's ten most successful brand named prescription medicines, "Viramune" was seventh, with tendency rising.[5] The German company is not inclined to accept a regression in its sales - in spite of the deadly threat to thousands of children.

Expansion

But Boehringer Ingelheim is not fighting its Indian competitor only because of extra profits from "Viramune" sales. The German company is making a bid to establish itself on the lucrative Southern Asian market of India's population of a billion. Supplementary to license agreements made with the Indian company, Cadila Healthcare Ltd., in 2005 Boehringer Ingelheim began to "establish its own business infrastructure" in India.[6] The struggle for patent protection of German products weakens the native competitor.

Agent Orange

Boehringer was repeatedly criticized in the past for its unscrupulous business practices. For example in the 60s it delivered 720 tons of trichlorophenoxyacetic acid to Dow Watkins Co. (New Zealand) a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals (USA). This chemical was a component for the fabrication of the herbicide, Agent Orange, which is also poisonous to humans. The US Army sprayed great quantities of this defoliant over wide areas of jungle during the war on Vietnam. Still today hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese are suffering from the late sequelae of this chemical warfare. Mothers in the affected areas are still giving birth to seriously deformed babies. The head administrator of the board of directors during this period was Richard von Weizsäcker (CDU), who later became President of Germany.[7]

Rationality

On the occasion of the G8 Summit, health and development policy initiatives are calling for protests against the patent protection policy of the companies, now receiving state backing. Another point of criticism: according to experts, more than half of Boehringer's pharmaceuticals marketed in developing countries, have proven to be insufficiently tested, useless or even dangerous. These Boehringer products - often not even authorized for sale in Europe - are considered "irrational medicines."[8] The rationality behind irrational products merely lies in the company's balance sheets. As the German firm recently announced in its annual report, the receipts after taxes in 2006 rose 14 percent - to 1.7 billion Euros.

[1], [2] Rede von Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel anlässlich des "European Patent Forum" des Europäischen Patentamtes am 18. April 2007 in München; www.bundesregierung.de. See also Wettbewerbsfähigkeit
[3] Boehringer behindert Zugang zu AIDS-Sirup für Kinder; Pharma-Brief. Rundbrief der BUKO Pharma-Kampagne 9/10, Dezember 2006
[4] Familienunternehmen mit weltweitem Erfolg; www.boehringer-ingelheim.de/unternehmensprofil/index.jsp
[5], [6] Boehringer Ingelheim: Unternehmensbericht 2005
[7] Cordt Schnibben: Der Tod aus Ingelheim - Akte Boehringer; Der Spiegel 31/1991
[8] Boehringer behindert Zugang zu AIDS-Sirup für Kinder; Pharma-Brief, Rundbrief der BUKO Pharma-Kampagne 9/10, Dezember 2006