July 13, 2009
By 2030, an estimated 50 million people with HIV/AIDS will need newer treatments to keep them alive, according an all-party parliamentary report due out this week. To prevent millions of AIDS deaths in poor countries, pharmaceutical firms holding patents on HIV/AIDS drugs should release these drugs' patent rights, Mike Foster, Britain's international development minister, is expected to say.
Under the proposal, drug companies could put their HIV/AIDS drugs into a "patent pool," and generic-drug makers would be permitted to make cheaper copies and combination pills for patients in poor nations. Unitaid, an international drug-buying entity set by up several donor countries including the United Kingdom, is trying to create the pool. However, drug firms regard patents as the means of recouping the massive costs of drug research and development.
Three million HIV/AIDS patients in poor countries now receive subsidized treatment, but that is just one-third of those in need. Drug resistance is a growing threat in both the developing and developed nations, and the newer treatments are expensive. Cheap, generic copies of these newer drugs cannot easily be made by generic-drug makers in places such as India and China, which now have tighter intellectual property-rights rules.
"The pharmaceutical industry has an opportunity to act now to help prevent future human catastrophe," said Foster. "It is time for them to state their clear commitments to make HIV medicines affordable to those who need them most."
"We are sitting on a treatment time bomb," said Member of Parliament David Barrow, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on AIDS. "We cannot sleepwalk into a situation where we can only afford to treat a tiny proportion of those infected."