Indigenous knowledge can put South Africa at the helm of innovation in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, said Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor.
Pandor was making the opening speech at the Innovative Medicines Summit, held yesterday by the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of South Africa (Ipasa).
According to Pandor, the debate on patent law could be key to making medicine more accessible.
Medical research and development relating to a wide range of diseases was a central theme at the summit.
Ipasa is a voluntary trade association made of 25 pharmaceutical companies which, together, have developed more than 35 vaccines, mostly against fatal and permanently disabling diseases.
Pandor said innovation required better legislation and support from government.
“Given the challenges of innovation, continued research and development progress requires robust support in the form of strong patent protection incentives and cooperation,” she said.
Government had sought to address intellectual property issues in ways that would complement existing mechanisms without stifling innovation, said Pandor.
In 2014, the South African draft National Policy on Intellectual Property led to a media skirmish as papers leaked from Ipasa documented plans to lobby against the draft policy with the help of a USbased consultancy.
Ipasa has since distanced itself from the plans.
South Africa has been criticised by nongovernment organisations for its “lax” patent laws that allow pharmaceutical companies to get multiple patents on the same medicine, thereby giving companies more than the allocated 20 years’ monopoly and blocking more affordable generic competitors from bringing products to market.
The price of private healthcare increased by 300% between 2002 and 2014, moving from R42 billion to R142 billion.