Bill Gates Calls For “Vaccine Decade;” Explains How Patent System Drives Public Health AidPublished on 17 May 2011 @ 11:03 pm
Microsoft legend Bill Gates is impassioned about helping to save lives as head of a large-scale foundation. Today, he explained to Intellectual Property Watch how intellectual property rights help drive that process forward and make it sustainable.
Gates, chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke candidly to journalists after addressing the 64th World Health Assembly today. In his address, Gates called on governments to help take the world into a “Decade of Vaccines,” and predicted there will be five or six new vaccines available to all countries “at prices they can afford to pay.”
IP rights play a role in that vision.
Gates’ speech to the assembly is available here.
“In terms of IP what we do is actually quite simple,” Gates said in response to a question from Intellectual Property Watch. “We fund research and we actually ourselves or our partners create intellectual property so that anything that is invented with our foundation money that goes to richer countries, we’re actually getting a return on that money.”
“By doing that we have more money to devote for research into neglected diseases and the diseases of the poor,” he said. “Now when our medicines go into the poor countries, they are always going in without any intellectual property fee, at very lowest cost pricing.”
“In fact,” he added, “we’re a pioneer of going to vaccine manufacturing to making volume commitments to allow them to build high volume facilities that are very, very low cost – so working with people on getting the prices down.”
“But,” he said, “the intellectual property system has worked very well to protect our investments so that when they are used in rich countries we get a payback and then we have the control to make sure that it is not creating any financial burden on the countries that are the poorest.”
Gates spoke to a standing-room only assembly hall with packed overflow rooms broadcasting his speech. He responded with some visionary language – in a computer-guy kind of way.
“Thirty years ago, my colleagues and I envisioned a computer on every desktop,” he told the assembly. “Now, I join you in seeking access to good healthcare for every human being.”
The vision for the decade also includes the need for countries to build delivery systems to deliver vaccines to “every last child.”
Gates was particularly focussed on the eradication of polio, already about 99 percent gone from the earth.
He also praised governments for maintaining their financial commitment to vaccines and immunisation despite budget difficulties.
And he said pharmaceutical companies “must make sure vaccines are affordable for poor countries. Specifically, you must make a commitment to tiered pricing.” Some activists have said that tiered pricing, in which treatments are offered at reduced prices in poorer countries, still can be too high for many people.
He said in the past, drug companies developed vaccines for rich countries, and it took more than a decade before they were introduced in poor countries, but that it is changing.
Gates described efforts involving the WHO and an organisation called PATH to produce a vaccine at a target price of .50 cents that required a new approach to drug development around meningitis. The project “worked with a Dutch biotech company to obtain key raw materials and arranged a technology transfer from the United States Food and Drug Administration. Then, the Serum Institute of India agreed to manufacture the vaccine at the target price,” he said.
“To keep the promise of equitable access to health care, all new vaccines must be priced low enough so that all countries can afford them,” he said in his speech. “The Gates Foundation is working with many vaccine manufacturers to ensure that vaccines are available at a reasonable price.”
In sum, he said, vaccines are “one of the best investments we can make.”
In the press briefing, Gates said that with advanced market commitments, in which companies are essentially promised a market for developing a drug, it might be helpful to have other companies from other regions become involved.
He also made favourable remarks about generic vaccine producers and said there is room for expansion. High volume suppliers bring costs down, he said.
Sanofi-WHO Neglected Disease Partnership
Separately, at a side event tonight, drug maker Sanofi and the WHO celebrated the 10th anniversary of a partnership to fight neglected tropical diseases, and in particular human African trypanosomiasis, more commonly known as sleeping sickness.
The aim of the partnership is to screen patients and give them early treatment, Robert Sebbag, vice president for access to medicines at Sanofi told Intellectual Property Watch.
The company is spending US$ 5 million a year on the project, part of which includes the supply of the drugs, he said. Sanofi invented the three major treatments against the sickness. The remainder of the contribution goes to logistics.
Since the beginning of the partnership, some 150,000 patients have been treated. Without treatment, trypanosomiasis is fatal, Sebbag said. There is also a sharp decline of new cases of the disease, he said.
According to a WHO document, the partnership started with a 5-year commitment to fight trypanosomiasis. A second 5-year commitment expanded the scope of collaboration to include leishmaniasis, Buruli ulcer, and Chagas disease. Sebbag said the company had a moral responsibility to help address the problem.
The partnership is now entering a third round with Sanofi in March making an additional 5-year commitment, until 2016.
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