Ford School hosts conversation on drug patent system reform

Monday, February 24, 2020 - 7:18pm

Priti Krishtel, co-founder of Initiatives For Medicine, discusses failure in the drug patent system during a lecture in Weill Hall Monday afternoon.

Priti Krishtel, co-founder of Initiatives For Medicine, discusses failure in the drug patent system during a lecture in Weill Hall Monday afternoon. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

The Ford School of Public Policy hosted a discussion with Priti Krishtel, the co-founder and co-executive director of the Initiative for Medicines, Access and Knowledge. The event titled, “To Solve Drug Pricing We Must Solve the Drug Patent Problem,” was a part of the Science, Technology and Public Policy speaker series at the Public Policy School. There were about 30 people in attendance Monday evening.

Krishtel began to discuss her work as an advocate for drug patent reform. Throughout her career, Krishtel has worked with many global organizations and agencies such as the Indian NGO Lawyers Collective.

She gave a brief history of India’s patent system and spoke about how high prescription drug prices impacted the community. 

“The common service we had to provide for clients was to draw up adoption and documentation papers. This was because parents knew that they were going to pass away and they needed to make sure their children were cared for,” Krishtel said. “... it provided a really poignant understanding of what it means at the household level for families not to be able to afford medicine.” 

Krishtel then moved on to discuss her non-profit organization, I-MAK. Krishtel co-founded I-MAK in 2006, following the passage of a reformed patent law in India. Krishtel said she formed I-MAK as a means to help more citizens participate in the reform of patent law. 

“If you are in the private sector, you have a team of lawyers on your side,” Krishtel said. “We started I-MAK literally because … we thought that patients didn’t have that power and we wanted to have their voices heard.”

Krishtel further explained her work by discussing drug patent reform law in the United States. Krishtel spoke about the importance of civic participation in reforming drug patent law. 

“Regular people, when we see system flaws, we can just ask and push the government to change,” Krishtel said. 

On the issue of drug pricing in the U.S., Krishtel considered how patent reform will be a prominent issue in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, given that multiple candidates have made statements on the issue. Krishtel said she believes many voters want prescription drug prices to decrease. 

“Most policymakers that we talked to know that drug pricing will become the next frontier in the health care fight,” Krishtel said. “But it’s not really a fight — lowering drug pricing is pretty unanimous across the board. Over 80 percent of voters want to see prescription drug prices lowered.”

“In the United States, we pride ourselves on having democratic institutions and culture with robust discourse,” Krishtel said. “But in this rapidly emerging area of medicine, science and technology and public policy, there has to be more of a robust public discussion. The public’s input has to start influencing the direction we take on matters such as public policy.”

Pharmacy students Andrea Van Waardhuizen and Meghan Hoffman told The Daily they found the event very interesting, especially noting how the conversation on drug patents applied to their pharmaceutical studies. 

“We have never talked about patents with respect to drug costs,” Hoffman said. “I take a couple of classes in business, looking at drug costs and how it impacts patients and we see it day-to-day in how we interact with patients at pharmacies and hospitals, so it was very interesting to hear about it from a different perspective because we had never thought about it in this way.”

Van Waardhuizen said she agreed with Hoffman and spoke further about Krishtel’s call to educate the public on the issue of drug patents. 

“To me, the thing that was interesting was how little I and the public know about patents,” Van Waardhuizen said. “I think Krishtel was right about this sheer narrative on American innovation which says that ‘more’ means it's more innovative — but that’s not always the case with drug patents and it’s important that the public knows that.” 

Reporter Lily Gooding can be reached at goodingl@umich.edu