Global health activists declared a victory this week as the first pharmaceutical company made the jump into the world’s only “patent pool” for HIV medicines, the Medicines Patent Pool.
Gilead Sciences, a leading producer of HIV drugs, announced on July 12th that it will allow generic manufactures to make affordable versions of its powerful life-saving HIV treatments. As part of this “Patent Pool agreement,” Gilead will license its technology to low-cost producers in exchange for a small royalty payment. For global health observers, this is a massive step forward for pharma. (If you are lost at this stage scroll down below for a great explanatory video on patent pools).
The Guardian’s Sarah Boesly argues on her global health blog that this agreement will allow generic companies in India (which already supply the bulk of HIV treatments to Africa) to make cheap copies and combine important licensed drugs. She writes:
People with HIV in poor countries [now] have a real prospect of obtaining not just the basic, cheap drugs to keep the virus at bay, but some of the best medicines that are on offer anywhere in the world – at a price their governments can afford.
The Medicines Patent Pool was founded in 2010 to improve access for the word’s poor to HIV medicines by negotiating such voluntary licenses. According to Ellen ‘t Hoen, executive director of the Medicines Patent Pool, six other patent holders are currently negotiating with the organization, including ViiV Healthcare, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Roche, Boehringer Ingelheim and Sequoia Pharmaceuticals. “This is not just a one-off. The whole field is changing … there will be more to follow,” she told Reuters.
The more companies that jump into the pool, the more prices can be driven down by competition between generic makers. Stay tuned for developments – this pool could start making huge waves very soon.
For those interested in the nitty-gritty legal details of this ground-breaking deal, the Medicines Patent Pool has posted the full licensing agreement on their website here. The Medicines Patent Pool was founded by UNITAID, which also created the Millennium Foundation to raise more funds for global health through the travel industry.
And for those that want to learn more about how the patent pool works, we suggest the video below, created back in 2009 when civil society organizations were pushing for the creation of a patent pool. Seems their dreams are coming true: