Time runs out on talks on drugs for poor countries

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GENEVA, Nov 10 (Reuters) Talks between public health officials and the drug industry on a deal to ensure that people in poor countries can receive medicines at affordable prices ended inconclusively today.

The Geneva meeting, sponsored by the United Nations' World Health Organisation, was suspended after delegates exhausted the six days allotted for negotiations and agreed to meet again in late April and conclude a deal in May.

''This is a difficult negotiation,'' said James Love, director of advocacy group Knowledge Ecology International, in a statement. ''Negotiators are creating new global norms and mechanisms to promote both innovation and access to medical technologies.'' The goal of the talks is to produce guidelines that would encourage research and development of affordable drugs to treat diseases prevalent in poor countries while respecting intellectual property rights of big pharmaceutical firms.

The industry argues it needs strong revenues from drug sales to finance research and development into new treatments, including for diseases prevalent in developing countries.

The pharmaceutical industry has condemned the WHO draft plan and richer countries home to much of the global drug industry remain cool to the plan.

But health advocates, including aid agency Doctors Without Borders, or Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), say that development of drugs for poor countries is lacking.

MSF said the talks, staged by the Intergovernmental Working Group for Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (IGWG), saw some encouraging progress.

''Countries are pushing WHO to be more active in resolving the access to medicines crisis, and take a pro-health approach to intellectual property,'' said MSF's Michel Lotrowska in a statement at the close of the talks.

''Governments are taking steps to address the fundamental reasons why investment into innovation for diseases of the poor is lacking,'' he said.

The pharmaceutical industry, represented by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers&Associations (IFPMA), said it was disappointed by the lack of a deal and called for more public funds to encourage drug development.

Reuters SBA VP0120

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