If You Can’t Join ‘Em, Beat ‘Em: New Industry Effort A Jab At Patent Pool?

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A new pharmaceutical industry initiative aimed at improving access to HIV treatments in least-developed countries is raising questions as to how it will fit with the Medicines Patent Pool, an existing group with a similar but more ambitious mandate. As an informal meeting on the new initiative kicks off this week in New Delhi, scrutiny will be paid to whether the initiative’s drivers are several companies that have declined to negotiate with the patent pool and whether it is a good-faith effort to help the greatest number of patients.

The new initiative is called the HIV Medicines Alliance, and its draft charter is here [pdf].

The agenda of the New Delhi meeting, set for 21-22 June, shows an effort to build support among civil society and others. India is home to most of the world’s generic production, and some of its generics companies have made agreements with the Medicines Patent Pool.

Looking at the draft charter from early June, the initiative aims to encourage companies to share in-kind support and patented products royalty-free to least-developed countries under arrangements with generics companies, and demonstrates flexibility on industry’s part.

But it could stop short of a firm commitment to lower prices and availability. For instance, the draft language states that it would “work to enable the availability of medicines developed through this Alliance at the lowest possible prices,” which is perhaps different than stating that the medicines will be available and at prices poor populations can afford.

The new initiative, organised by the Wellcome Trust, reportedly involves Johnson & Johnson and Merck, two companies that have declined to enter negotiations with the Patent Pool.

The Medicines Patent Pool was established in recent years by UNITAID – affiliated with the UN World Health Organization – to increase access to HIV treatments in least-developed and developing countries, through voluntary licensing agreements with pharmaceutical companies that share their patents with the pool.

The Medicines Patent Pool has negotiated agreements with some companies, but in some cases negotiations with patent-holders have been difficult where mid-sized developing countries are concerned, as companies are more reluctant to risk undermining profits in larger markets. On the other hand, public health advocates say that most people in the mid-sized developing countries cannot afford patented medicines, making it necessary to address those markets somehow.

Meanwhile, in least developed countries, in many cases drug companies do not even have patents and so are less concerned about sharing there. The Medicines Patent Pool also attempts to maintain strong public health principles in voluntary licensing, which might be seen as a barrier by industry.

The invitation letter for the New Delhi meeting says a stakeholder consultation was held in London on 2-3 May. “This brought together representatives of all originator companies, WHO, UNAIDS, CHAI, MSF, UNITAID, the Medicines Patent Pool, advocacy groups, donors, clinicians from Africa and other key stakeholders,” it said. The initiative apparently has just changed its name from the ARV Collaboration.

The invitation letter was sent by Ted Bianco, director of technology transfer at the Wellcome Trust. The co-chairs of The ARV Collaboration were listed as Amb. Mark Dybul, Joy Phumaphi, and Peter Piot. Note: the organisers were not reached for this article.

The initiative might also raise a question of how it compares with another new industry-related initiative at the World Intellectual Property Organization, called Re:Search (IPW, WIPO, 27 October 2012). But the WIPO initiative is not focussed on HIV/AIDS.

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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  1. RR says

    I was at the Wellcome Trust invitation meeting in New Delhi and asked the question – how is this initiative different from OR not an attempt to kill the Patent Pool.

    There was NO satisfactory/ non-ambigous answer.

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