December 14, 2009
Geneva, Switzerland -- Today UNITAID's Executive Board made a landmark decision to establish a Patent Pool for AIDS medicines. The pool, scheduled to start operating in mid-2010, aims to make newer medicines available in patient-adapted form, at lower prices, for low- and middle-income countries. UNITAID has committed to provide start-up funds of up to US$ 4 million over the next year. Expected savings exceed one billion dollars a year, which will make more medicines available for more people.
"This is an historic day," said Philippe Douste-Blazy, Chair of UNITAID's Executive Board. "UNITAID has now put in place a mechanism that will make medical advances work for the poor, while compensating companies for sharing their technology."
The Patent Pool will allow generic companies to make lower cost versions of widely patented new medicines by creating a common space for patent holders to license their technology in exchange for royalties. This will spur competition and further bring down the price of vital new and effective medicines, giving hope to millions of patients. Companies with which UNITAID has had consultations include Gilead, Tibotec, Merck and Sequoia.
UNITAID has identified 19 products from nine companies for potential inclusion into the pool. The pool will facilitate the development of fixed-dose combinations (FDCs). For some years now clinical evidence has revealed that these combinations are the best way for patients to access safe, effective treatment. Until now, patents have created barriers to developing FDCs combining newer and more effective drugs from different companies. Today, with the first concrete step in the realisation of the Patent Pool, the door is open for new FDCs to enter the market.
"FDCs are especially important in the treatment of children, who make up 10% of current treatment needs," said Jorge Bermudez, UNITAID Executive Secretary. "The Patent Pool will greatly help us accomplish our mission of scaling up treatment access, particularly for specific target groups otherwise neglected by the market -- that is, children and people who fail on older therapies."
The idea of a Patent Pool has been in discussion for a number of years. In 2006, Knowledge Ecology International and Médecins Sans Frontières proposed it to UNITAID. Today UNITAID has become the first international body to translate this idea into reality.
"Today is a good day for people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries," said Nelson Otwoma, the HIV/AIDS community representative on UNITAID's Executive Board. "When my son was a baby we had to break pieces of adult tablets for him -- treating him was guess work. The Pool gives me hope that we'll have better medicines to treat children in the future."
"We've had enormous interest from companies and political support from numerous constituencies around the globe," said Ellen 't Hoen, in charge of the Patent Pool for UNITAID. "We're now ready to move to the next phase -- reaching agreements with companies to get the drugs out."