[Ip-health] Bridges Weekly: UNITAID Launches Patent Pool for HIV/AIDS Drugs

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Wed Jun 9 23:56:39 PDT 2010


Intellectual Property Programme • Volume 14 • Number 21 • 9th June 2010

UNITAID Launches Patent Pool for HIV/AIDS Drugs

A “patent pool” that promises to spur innovation and lower costs for  
state-of-the-art HIV/AIDS treatment took a big step closer to becoming  
a reality on Tuesday, with a crucial procedural decision that sets up  
an entity that can negotiate with the makers of key drugs to secure  
access to their intellectual property.

After months of negotiations, the executive board of UNITAID, the  
international drug purchasing facility that has spearheaded the push  
for a drug patent pool, formally approved an agreement to set up a  
Medicines Patent Pool Foundation and provide it with US$4.4 million in  
funds for its first year.

“What this means in practical terms,” explained Philippe Douste-Blazy,  
chair of UNITAID’s 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.”

Douste-Blazy, a doctor and former French minister for health and  
foreign affairs, told Intellectual Property Watch that the decision  
“should save millions of lives of people living with HIV across the  
developing world.”

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.

Sources say that the statutes of the Medicines Patent Pool Foundation,  
which have been filed with the Swiss authorities, include provisions  
to prevent drugs created via access to the eventual pool from being  
diverted to developed country markets, where the companies that will  
be asked to license their patents make much of their money.

The Medicines Patent Pool Foundation will be a Swiss non-profit  
foundation, independent from UNITAID or its host, the World Health  
Organization. The reason for creating a separate legal entity, instead  
of having UNITAID house the patent pool, was that patent-holders might  
have been reluctant to license drugs to a UN-affiliated body. The UN’s  
various legal privileges and immunities might have made legal recourse  
difficult if they were unhappy with how their intellectual property  
was being used.

The three members of the foundation’s board that have been confirmed  
so far are Bernard Pécoul, the head of the Drugs for Neglected  
Diseases initiative, Charles Clift, a well-known expert on  
intellectual property and health, and Paulo Teixeira, the former head  
of Brazil’s national AIDS programme.

Ellen ‘t Hoen, a senior adviser on intellectual property and the  
medicines patent pool with UNITAID, said that there was now a  
“complete green light” to transfer money to the new foundation, which  
will start operations in the weeks to come. But the creation of the  
Medicines Patent Pool Foundation allows negotiations to start with  
pharmaceutical companies such as ViiV and Gilead, not the ultimate goal.

“What the world is waiting for is concrete results from the patent  
pool,” she said. “Now the hard work can start.”

ICTSD reporting.


Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
thiru at keionline.org

Tel: +41 22 791 6727
Mobile: +41 76 508 0997

More information about the Ip-health mailing list