July 14, 2011

Industry Jumps into AIDS Patent Pool

The international organization UNITAID lanched an initiative, the Medicines Patent Pool, as an effort to bringing lower cost drugs ro those in developing countries who cannot afford such treatments – and where patent rights held by global pharmaceutical companies frustrated the development of lower cost alternatives in these countries. The pool invites patent holders to submit their patent rights for inclusion, thus agreeing to an affordable licensing model for genetic companies around the world. From the mission statement:
The Pool is a win-win-win model, whereby patent holders are compensated for sharing their patents, generic manufacturers gain access to markets, and patients benefit more swiftly from appropriate and adapted medicines at more affordable prices.
To date, the pool’s largest obstacle is to induce the holders of patents to successful drugs to submit their patent rights, knowing that the licensing of the same is unlikely to generate any significant revenues. NIH licensed its patent to darunavir, an anti-GIV drug, last year. Now comes word that Gilead Sciences, Inc. has submitted 4 patents on AIDS drugs to the pool, vastly incnreaing its anti-HIV portfolio.  A great step forward for the concept of an equitable patent pool, but more importantly, for the patients currently underserved by the pharmaceutical marketplace. What a radical shift from the days when a phalanx of pharmaceutical companies took South Africa to court when it attempted to legislate the use of parallel imports of patented drugs and allow compulsory licensing in 1998 in order to ease the effect of high prices on AIDS drugs. The lawsuit was later dropped, but the legislation was also eased, and the government ultimately negotiated with the drug companies for lower prices in order to increase access. The entry by Gilead into the patent pool bodes well for the use of this mechanism as a tool to fight AIDS, but other diseases as well. UNITAID is also targeting malaria and tuberculosis.

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