ARTICLE: Pharmaceutical industry: Brazil’s strategic asset

Newspaper: Correio Braziliense

Author: Nelson Mussolini

The role played by Brazil in the global effort to research and produce vaccines against Covid-19, as an important player in clinical research and in the manufacture of immunizing drugs on a large scale, attests to the qualification of industries, research centers, hospitals and professionals who work in the country. In other words, the future of the pharmaceutical industry in Brazil has already begun: it is being built here and now.

Pharmaceutical companies with national capital maintain partnerships with universities that have resulted in the discovery of active ingredients and innovative drugs exported to several countries. At the same time, international pharmaceutical companies have carried out clinical research on state-of-the-art products here.

But a government policy is still lacking, a long-range plan allowing the country to explore the great potential of the pharmaceutical area as a vector for scientific, technological, economic and social development.

It is also necessary to overcome some old-fashioned ideas impregnated with ideology, which prevent advances that could be achieved in the short term. Misunderstanding of the role of intellectual property is one of them.

Political and health leaders still persist in the assumption that patent breaking, even if temporarily, can encourage the production of medicines and vaccines and expand the population’s access to essential goods for public health.

A big mistake because, as the handling of the coronavirus in Brazil has demonstrated, the control of the pandemic was only possible thanks to the technology transfer negotiations among national and international pharmaceutical industries, public laboratories, research centers and Brazilian and world authorities to carry out clinical research and the production of vaccines against COVID-19 in Brazil.

It was not a haphazard success. This is the rule. In Brazil and in the world, observing intellectual property rights is critical for the development and supply of new drugs and vaccines and the strengthening of the clinical trials system due to these processes complexity, their long and uncertain stages of development and the high costs involved.

“Crossing the ‘valley of death’ and making Brazil a breeding ground for new discoveries” in the pharmaceutical and health area is a great challenge as has been recently pointed out in an article by respected infectious diseases specialist and professor at Brazilian university USP, Esper Kallás. And without legal certainty and stable rules this is practically impossible.

For example, Brazil has tradition and experience in clinical trials and it has internationally renowned researchers, hospitals and research centers. And yet the country loses investments of more than BRL 2 billion every year because of unnecessary bureaucracy and provisions that, by creating legal uncertainty, drive away sponsors of clinical trials. We are not advocating here for the withdrawal of individuals’ rights from research but the modernization of the regulatory framework.

Being the eighth pharmaceutical market in the world – with projections that it shall move to the 5th position globally in 2023 – Brazil produces high quality medicines, has a large installed capacity and little by little has been accumulating patents for innovative products. In addition, its public and private health system is extensive and a reference for universal care. And its population’s consumption potential is enormous. Therefore the main companies in the sector are installed here and have expansion plans. However, as the current health crisis has shown, this is not enough. 

In view of its privileged status in the pharmaceutical and health area the country can and should dream bigger, both to meet its needs and to take advantage of the opportunities that the post-pandemic international context offers in our continent. This is a multibillion dollar market.

For Brazilian society and Brazil’s future relaunching the country as an important developer and producer of innovative synthetic and biological medicines, vaccines and other pharmaceutical products is a strategic and priority objective. Therefore this goal should be included in the government programs of all presidential candidates in this year’s upcoming elections. 

(*) Nelson Mussolini is the executive president of the pharmaceutical industry association Sindusfarma (Sindicato da Indústria de Produtos Farmacêuticos, in portuguese) and a member of the Brazilian Health Council (CNS, acronym in portuguese).