Tuesday, June 22, 2010

UNITAID finally approves patent pool for Aids drugs

Geneva, June 09, 2010 - The long-awaited patent pool for Aids drugs is now officially approved and will start persuading drug companies to give up their monopoly rights in July 2010.  

The final hurdle was surmounted and the launch of the first-ever patent pool for HIV drugs got the official go-ahead on June 08 2010 . The Aids patent pool, aims to kick-start the development of much needed fixed-dose combinations (FDCs) of antiretrovirals in developing countries by pooling patent rights.

According to an article published in the Guardian Global Health Blog, after months of negotiations and expectations, the board of UNITAID - an international organisation set up by European donor countries to increase the supply of affordable medicines to the developing world - voted to set up the Medicines Patent Pool Foundation and give it $4.4 million in its first year. 

The Patent Pool Foundation is expected to hit the ground running in July, persuading drug companies to hand over the patents they hold on Aids drugs so that cheap generic copies for people in poor countries can be made. The greatest benefits are expected to be in the manufacture of drugs in suitable formulations for children and also combinations of drugs belonging to a number of different manufacturers.

"What this means in practical terms," said Philippe Douste-Blazy, chair of the UNITAID Executive Board, "is that formal negotiations with the patent holders can now begin. We expect the Patent Pool Foundation to have its first licenses within a year."

But analysts say that this new patent pool foundation will have a lot of work to do because not every pharmaceutical company is willing to hand over its monopoly rights in a good cause, particularly when it comes to Aids drugs, for which there is a lucrative market in rich countries. 

As it stands, no R and D companies have signed up the patent pool idea yet as there are still questions about the royalty rates that will be given to R&D firms opting to put their patents in the pool. 

This is not the first-ever patent pool. British company GlaxoSmithKline has already established one of its own, but while it has put in patents for drugs that could help against neglected diseases, it has excluded Aids drugs - a field in which it is a leading player. But chief executive Andrew Witty has said he will consider a UNITAID patent pool. 

About the patent pool
A patent pool brings together (”pools”) multiple patents belonging to different owners, and makes them available to third parties against the payment of a royalty.
UNITAID believes that pooling the patents for key HIV/AIDS drugs would make it simpler, and cheaper, for researchers and drug manufacturers other than the patent-holders to access important intellectual property. This would facilitate competition and hence, lower prices, since several different manufacturers could pay the royalty, and then access the intellectual property in the pool to make drugs for sale in developing countries. The ‘one-stop shop’ for intellectual property would also enable innovation, since it would become easier for companies to access the different patents needed to create new fixed-dose combinations, included badly needed ones for children.
UNITAID wants the patent pool to focus initially on HIV/AIDS medicines that are expensive (the newer, ‘second-line’ medicines that receive patent protection in India, a major source of low-cost versions of older drugs) or unavailable (formulations that can withstand hot temperatures, as well as those for children). It wants the licence agreements with patent holders to cover both low- and middle-income developing countries - covering only the former might mean a market for generics too small to yield adequate price reductions.

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