“Patent pool” may help lower AIDS drug prices

Here’s some interesting and potentially encouraging news about a new HIV/AIDS drug access initiative from UNITAID.  According to a July 8 article by Donald G. McNeil Jr. in the New York Times (see also this summary from the Kaiser Network):

Unitaid, the international agency created in 2006 to buy medicine to counter AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, has taken the first step toward establishing a mechanism to deal with a vexing problem of drugs so expensive they are out of reach for most poor people.

The agency is endorsing the creation of a panel of experts to explore the feasibility of a “patent pool.” In theory, the pool would hold licenses on patented medicines, which it could use to have them made at lower costs for poor countries. Initially, it would focus on drugs for infants with AIDS and for adult patients who have developed resistance to first-line drugs.

This article from Medical News Today explains the concept of patent pools well:

A patent pool is a mechanism whereby a number of patents held by different entities, such as companies, universities or research institutes, are made available to others for production or further development – for example of paediatric formulations or fixed-dose formulations. The patent holders receive royalties that are paid by those who use the patents. The pool manages the licences, the negotiations with patent holders and the receipt and payment of royalties.

A patent pool can help speed up the availability of generic versions of new medicines because the development can start well before the 20 year patent term runs out. At the same time, it will help to increase the size of the potential market because companies that produce drugs under licence from the patent pool will be able to export them to any of the countries designated by the pool’s licences.

Patent pools are part of World Health Organization’s recently-adopted Global Strategy on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property to help increase access to medicines. http://www.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/A61/A61_R21-en.pdf

The article also reports that the UNITAID initiative has received enthusiastic support from the prominent medical NGO Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières:

International humanitarian medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) welcomes the decision by UNITAID’s Executive Board to take further steps towards establishing a patent pool* for medicines, in order to provide people in low- and middle-income countries with increased access to more appropriate and lower-priced medicines.

“UNITAID has shown great vision and understanding of what needs to be done – this could potentially have a big impact, both for access to medicines and for medical innovation”, said Ellen ‘t Hoen, Director of Policy at MSF’s Access Campaign. “Whether this works or not now depends on the willingness of patent holders to share, in exchange for royalties, the relevant patent rights in the pool.”

“We need to find ways to get new drug prices down,” said Dr. Selina Lo, Medical Coordinator at MSF’s Access Campaign. “Today we pay at best between US$613 and $1,022 for the newer WHO-recommended regimen for first-line AIDS treatment. This is a seven to twelve-fold increase compared to older first-line treatments which are now available for $87 for one patient’s yearly treatment. As we’ve seen with the older antiretrovirals to treat AIDS, increased competition is the best way to do that – a patent pool can foster this competition.”

As these quotes suggest, the potential impact of a patent pool could be tremendous.  Drug access has long been one of the biggest challenges when it comes to providing HIV/AIDS treatment to people in the developing world.

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~ by h.e.g. on July 15, 2008.

One Response to ““Patent pool” may help lower AIDS drug prices”

  1. Thx for nice article.

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