UNITAID’s Medicines Patent Pool seeks to bring costly HIV/AIDS treatments and other essential drugs to low-income countries by requiring patent-holders to license their technologies to generics manufacturers. Will pledges of support from the NIH bring some of these patent-holders back to the negotiating table?
A new way for patients to have access to affordable HIV and AIDS medications has come to light via the Medicines Patent Pool—which aims to create a common space for patent-holders to license their technology for use by generic manufacturers in exchange for royalties. Established in July by UNITAID, the Medicines Patent Pool has the potential to reduce the price of existing drugs.
Now, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has become the first patent holder to join the Pool, licensing its life-prolonging antiretroviral (ARV), darunavir. Though this is a step in the right direction, making the technology to produce darunavir available to low- and middle-income countries, generic versions of the drug cannot yet be manufactured and sold because pharmaceutical company Tibotec, part of Johnson & Johnson, still holds additional patents on darunavir.
“This license underlines the US Government’s commitment to the Medicines Patent Pool and its goal to increase the availability of HIV medicines in developing countries,” says NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
“We are encouraged by the support of the NIH, and call on other patent holders to follow their lead,” says Dr. Philippe Douste-Blazy, Chair of the UNITAID Executive Board.
Nelson Otwoma, Director of Network of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya and UNITAID board member, adds, “We ask that companies step up and collaborate with the Medicines Patent Pool so that we can quickly see more affordable, easy-to-use pills getting into people’s mouths.”
The move by NIH is likely to put additional pressure on the research-based industry to cooperate with UNITAID in participating as active members of the Pool. Discussions have taken place with numerous companies, but significant differences of opinion remain over whether this argument is as “voluntary” as UNITAID says it is.