Jamra primary scholl for children affected by HIV/AIDS, drugs or poverty, Senegal (c) Nell Freeman/Alliance Participants in the Photovioce project, Ecuador © Marcela Nievas for the Alliance
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Alliance welcomes creation of a HIV patent pool


ARVs © Alliance/Natalia Kravchuk

A decision at the recent UNITAID board meeting (the international drug purchasing facility) to implement a patent pool for HIV drugs has been widely and warmly welcomed by Alliance members.

The pool should help save the lives of millions of people who are unable to access the life-saving anti-retroviral treatment that they need.  Only 42% of people who need treatment currently receive it.

The initiative would pool HIV drug patents, allowing generic manufacturers to produce affordable versions of existing drugs and to develop more appropriate medicines in exchange for a fair royalty payment to the originator pharmaceutical company. This will enable production of much needed new medicines such as fixed dose combinations adapted for children

Anton Kerr, who has led the Alliance’s advocacy for a patent pool for two years said, “I’m delighted that UNITAID have taken this step. It will help break down the patent barriers which stop people getting the drugs they need to stay alive. UNITAID and the UK government should be commended for their leadership on this.”

Diarmaid McDonald is the coordinator of Stop AIDS campaign, which ran the ‘Push for the Pool’ campaign that mobilised over 25,000 people across the country to join the effort.

“The focus now shifts to the big drug companies. It will test the sincerity of their rhetoric on helping the most vulnerable in our world. Companies like Gilead and Merck showed real leadership within the industry by speaking positively of the patent pool; they must now go beyond words and contribute their patents to the pool. The pressure will be on others in the industry to follow or to explain why they are willing to turn their backs on an initiative with such huge potential to save lives,” he said.

Covering costs

The patent pool will help tackle the growing crisis in the AIDS pandemic. HIV drugs become resistant to treatment over time and those on treatment need to move onto newer, more effective drugs. Patent laws mean that these second-line drugs are many times more expensive than the older first-line medication.

Currently 97% of those on treatment in the developing world are on first-line drugs. As more and more need the newer drugs to stay healthy, the cost becomes impossible for the developing countries to cover. The patent pool will foster generic competition to bring these prices down to a sustainable level.

An initial list of priority 'missing' ARVs has been drafted by the World Health Organisation’s HIV guidelines department, to identify priority license requests to address to patent-owning drug companies.

The UK government has been instrumental in its leadership for a patent pool. UK International Development Minister Mike Foster said, “Last year 2.7 million people were newly infected with HIV and two million people died from AIDS – the need to make effective HIV medicines affordable for developing countries has never been greater.

“The UNITAID patent pool could be a key means of addressing the treatment crisis and the UK government welcomes the decision as an important step forward in taking action to save millions of lives in the future,” he added.

    This will help break down the patent barriers which stop people getting the drugs they need to stay alive