American Way What do you make of the complaints in developing countries that drugs are prohibitively expensive?

Humer Let me put it in a different way. I think there clearly is, in a number of the least-developed countries, an issue of access to medicine. That's an issue I take personally. It's important. It is, however, wrong to place that issue entirely on price. The issue is, to a large extent, one related to education, to the availability of doctors, to the availability of nurses. It is not always a matter of price, because especially in the last few years the industry has made a tremendous effort in terms of pricing. Probably some of the malaria treatments cost five cents a day, and still the drugs do not reach patients because the facilities aren't there. There's a need to educate the nurses, educate the physicians, educate the patients. Then we have to properly transport medicines and get them to the right patients.

American Way Nonetheless, there's a movement in Mexico, for instance, which is hardly among the least developed countries, to essentially void patent protection for many drugs and allow the manufacture of homegrown equivalents.

Humer If we undermine intellectual prop­erty, then we undermine the future of research. Without patents, without intellectual property, which organization can run the risk you and I have just discussed, the risk of drug development, its time, and its enormous cost? This industry spends $40 billion per year on research and development. Look at the progress we are making to defeat diseases and prolong life. People with AIDS 10 years ago knew they would die in 6 months. Today they survive for 10 and 15 years. People with breast cancer had no chance to live 20 years ago. Today they survive for many years. You can only invest in those areas if you have intellectual property protection. And for all the drugs on the essential list of the WHO [medicines deemed by the World Health Organization to be necessary to human health], no patent exists.