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It’s one of the great scandals of our times, writes Johann Hari in the Independent. In order to counter the swine flu epidemic, factories in the developing world are desperate to put out generic versions of Tamiflu, but are being told not to. So that “rich drug companies can protect their patents – and profits.”

This, however, is not quite as surprising as the fact that The World Health Organisation (WHO), which has been warning of the ravages of swine flu in the developing world, seems to back Roche, the company that owns the Tamiflu patent. Under global trade laws, patent can be breached in the event of overwhelming health emergency. WHO however has not called for the use of this loophole, leaving Roche with exclusive rights to sell its own expensive branded version.

Big Pharma constantly argues that it needs to charge large sums for drugs in order to develop more life-saving medicines. But a study shows that only 14 per cent of budgets go towards developing drugs. Most research, in fact, is conducted in government-funded university labs. Drug companies only intervene in the largely uncreative final stages. “In returns,” Hari reports, “they then own exclusive rights to manufacture and profit from the resulting medicine for years.”