No more cheap meds across the border? US lawmakers worry Mexico is opening back door to Big Pharma

Border Report

Democrats raise red flag on Mexican law that could allow companies to "evergreen" patents, delay arrival of less-expensive generic drugs

View of a drugstore in front of the National Institute of Respiratory Diseases in Mexico City on February 29, 2020 as the new coronoavirus, COVID-19, spread worldwide. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images)

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EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Democrats in Congress who fought so that pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t use a new trade agreement to raise prices or delay development of generic drugs worry that Mexico has opened a back door for Big Pharma.

U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois; Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut; and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon recently sought the help of a Mexican senator to keep “secondary patents” out of legislation to implement the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

“It has come to our attention that Article 45.1 was amended to include language to grant patents for new uses or ‘secondary patents.’ New use patents were specifically eliminated from the final version of the USMCA as they encourage an anti-competitive practice commonly referred to as ‘evergreening,'” said the letter from the U.S. lawmakers to the president of the Economic Commission of the Mexican Senate.

“Evergreening” occurs when pharmaceuticals tinker with their products or change method of delivery to extend the life of patents that are about to expire and will no longer be cash-cows for them.

Mexican Sen. Gustavo Madero Muñoz, president of the Economic Commission (courtesy photo)

The Mexican official, Sen. Gustavo Madero Muñoz, said motions were made to modify the laws dealing with pharmaceutical aspects of the USMCA, but they failed.

Nonetheless, Madero responded to the American lawmakers with reassurances that the legislation bans secondary patents and that it won’t “permit delays in the introduction of generic medications when patents expire.”

What Mexico does with its drug prices affects thousands of uninsured or underinsured Americans who regularly cross the border to buy medications, said U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, who represents El Paso, just across the border from Juarez, Mexico.

Escobar had raised red flags to her Democratic colleagues since last October. She says El Paso residents see doctors and buy medicines in Mexico to save money, but that Mexico extending exclusivity for drugs to 10 years from the current five “will skyrocket drug costs in Mexico and lead to devastating effects for Mexicans and Americans alike.”

Democrats are unhappy with how Mexico is implementing parts of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement dealing with prescription medications. (AP file photo)

Escobar cites constituents that shell out $200 co-payments and are prescribed $300 medications they opt for buying in Mexico for $40. She says that practice is a consequence of pharmaceutical industry profiteering.

Apparently not satisfied with the Mexican response, the four Democrats last week penned an opinion piece blasting the U.S. Trade Representative for not alerting lawmakers to the changes in Mexico they say favor Big Pharma.

“It is especially frustrating that the Mexican Congress made last-minute amendments […] to terms connected to the revised (treaty’s) implementing legislation that promote pharmaceutical price-gouging,” said the opinion piece in The Hill. “Worse, second-use patenting is a special threat in the COVID-19 context. If existing medicines patented for other uses are found effective to treat the coronavirus, this policy guarantees pharmaceutical firms can obtain new, extended monopolies too set sky-high prices for COVID-related uses of an old drug.”

The lawmakers made a last-ditch pitch to their Mexican counterparts to “right this wrong.”

Border Report reached out to Madero’s office to find out if his colleagues or himself are willing to revisit the issue, but no one responded to the email on Monday.

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