WHO: Patents Won’t Block Access To Avian Flu Medicines10/11/2005 by Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)IP-Watch and its Global Health Policy News are non-profit independent news services and depend on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate.The World Health Organisation does not think patents will stand in the way of an effective public health action in the event of an outbreak of avian flu in humans because pharmaceutical companies have showed a willingness to co-operate, a senior UN official said on 9 November.Margaret Chan, the WHO director-general’s representative for pandemic influenza, told Intellectual Property Watch in an interview during a recent United Nations-sponsored conference on avian influenza that WHO Director General Lee Jong-wook and Chan had “on every occasion” said that they did not think patents would stand in the way of major public health action with regards to access to anti-influenza medicines such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir). Tamiflu is seen as the most effective medicine in case of an outbreak of avian flu in humans.Chan said she had consulted with pharmaceutical companies such as Roche, which markets Tamiflu, and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). She said that the companies “do understand” that there is a potential “major public health threat” and they had indicated that there were ways of entering into dialogue on the issue of access to medicines. She said that Roche and GSK were trying to help the WHO.Roche had, for example, agreed to offer sub-licenses to any company in any country that had the production capacity. “To me they [the companies] are very inclusive,” Chan said, adding that they knew that production and pricing issues need to be addressed. She concluded that the companies had been very sensitive to the importance of this issue.Roche has offered sub-licensing deals which means that companies would collaborate in producing Tamiflu while Roche keeps the rights to the product. Sources say that Roche has been contacted by some 150 companies interested in such deals and that it is in talks with eight companies at the moment. Roche hopes to have a “short list” of potential partners by the end of November, according to a company spokesperson. No deals have so far been signed.Some non-governmental critics have raised concerns about whether a single company holding the rights to the medicine’s production will act sufficiently in the interest of the public.UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has take the position that no action should be taken that would denigrate intellectual property protection but that IP protection should not stand in the way of people’s access to medicines, according David Nabarro, United Nations System senior coordinator for avian and human influenza.But critics question why the WHO has not issued a similar statement.IP Issues Skirted At WHO ConferenceIntellectual property rights were on the agenda at the avian flu meeting, held at the WHO on 7-9 November, but were not discussed in great detail.Nabarro said in an interview that intellectual property issues had been raised in the meeting in connection with countries trying to get an understanding of how access to anti-virals may be influenced by IP.He said the UN took a strong position on the issue of access to anti-influenza drugs, such as Tamiflu, but he noted that “we do not take a line” in terms of what actions countries should take to get access to drugs, including issuing compulsory licenses. Nabarro said that making specific recommendations on IP issues was “not something for me in my position to say” as this was something the countries had to “work out themselves.”Nabarro also said that it was not his role to negotiate with companies although the issue of access to medicines was high on his agenda.A WHO source said that countries were “very, very keen” on IP issues in relation to access to avian flu medicine but that at the meeting there was no discussion on precise steps countries should take to make sure they have a sufficient stock of medicines. On the second day of the meeting access to anti-viral drugs was discussed and the need to focus on logistics and licensing was emphasised.The meeting did, however, draw up a six-point global action plan, focusing on controlling avian flu in animals while also aiming to limit the threat of a human pandemic. The plan focused on control at the source in birds, surveillance, rapid containment, pandemic preparedness, integrated country plans and communications.In his closing remarks Lee pointed out that resources for a pandemic were insufficient and “issues remain of equitable access to medicines and deployment of stockpiles,” but no details were given as to how the stockpiles should be achieved. Also, he said that a global strategy and work plan “for coordinating anti-viral and influenza vaccine research and development” should be mapped out.The World Bank said that “the needs of affected countries could reach US$1 billion over the next three years.” So far 125 humans have been infected of whom 64 have died, the WHO said.Doubts Surface Over Tamiflu PatentA spokesperson for Gilead Sciences, a US pharmaceutical company, said in an interview that the company developed the Tamiflu in its California research labs, and that in 1996 Roche and Gilead entered into a licensing agreement giving Roche the worldwide commercialisation rights for Tamiflu. On 23 June, Gilead issued a notice of termination of the 1996 agreement with Roche, the spokesperson said.But as the two companies did not resolve the dispute within the period specified by their agreement, Gilead has “submitted the matter for confidential binding arbitration,” it said. It must be completed within 18 months.Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Related"WHO: Patents Won’t Block Access To Avian Flu Medicines" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.