Patent Pooling Is Next Step For Innovative Drug Purchasing Agency 09/07/2008 by Kaitlin Mara for Intellectual Property Watch 1 Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (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)By Kaitlin Mara A “landmark” decision was made last week by a unique intergovernmental initiative for drug financing in poor and underserved areas: an agreement on the usefulness of sharing intellectual property rights to lower costs and increase quality of needed medicines. At its eighth executive board meeting in Geneva on 2 and 3 July, market-oriented drug purchasing mechanism UNITAID agreed to the principle of establishing a patent pool – that is, a collection of intellectual property assets with the consent of their rights holders, for easier licensing to third party manufacture or researchers. Executive Secretary of UNITAID Jorge Bermudez called the move “an important step” and the first time the organisation is addressing intellectual property and access to medicines in a concrete manner. It will be a useful addition to other innovative tactics in place already at UNITAID that also lower drug prices while increasing availability and quality in underserved areas, he added. UNITAID is a joint project begun by France, Brazil, Chile, Norway and the United Kingdom that levees a tax on airline tickets – as an economically neutral and stable source of funding – and uses it to finance an international drug purchasing facility focussed on the world’s three biggest epidemic killers: HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. UNITAID funds projects that have strategic impact on the drug market – working to lower the cost of medication or influencing manufacturers to make drugs better suited to the needs of low income areas. Bermudez told Intellectual Property Watch that the next steps will be to set up a task force to develop an operational plan for the creation of a patent pool. A search for appropriate members – which a UNITAID news release says will include experts in “patent law, legal and business risks, economic analysis, public health and medicines,” is already under way and the group is expected to be working in the next three to four weeks. A potential first priority for the patent pool could be on paediatric antiretroviral medication, but it will not be restricted to these, Bermudez said. The operational plan is set to be approved at the next board meeting in November 2008, with the projected start date for patent pool implementation in 2009. “We are all working for that [date] to be feasible and possible,” Bermudez told Intellectual Property Watch, adding that the pool creation is “an important landmark in public health.” Exploring ways to handle the intellectual property dimension of access to medication has been an agenda item of UNITAID for a while, said Bermudez, and patent pools had been brought to the attention of the executive board at its meeting in 2006 when medical aid group Médecins Sans Frontières and the non-profit Essential Inventions proposed such a setup for drugs related to HIV/AIDS. The outcome documents of the recent World Health Organization Intergovernmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation, and Intellectual Property (IGWG) and the subsequent World Health Assembly (WHA) helped spur effort such as this one by garnering the support of member nations, said Ellen ‘t Hoen, director of policy advocacy at MSF’s access to essential medicines campaign. The global strategy and plan of action on public health[pdf] that came out of the WHA at the end of May calls for members to “examine the feasibility of voluntary patent pools” for public health purposes. “This is quite a major step forward,” said ‘t Hoen, and could help “overcome IP barriers to development of fixed dose combinations” for HIV/AIDS drugs. She added the decision was “very, very encouraging” and that MSF was “certainly committed” to seeing a patent pool created. Michelle Childs, CEO for Essential Inventions and head of European affairs for non-profit group Knowledge Ecology International, called the patent pool “an opportunity for a fresh start on access to HIV medicines for donors, universities, pharmaceutical companies and patients.” She added that “strong civil society engagement with patent owners and “sound management” would be key to the pool’s future success. A spokesperson for the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) said the patent pool was “very interesting” but felt that its specifics were too vague to comment upon yet. MSF’s ‘t Hoen said that the increase in patent disputes worldwide – something she predicted would only get worse – might make something like a patent pool appeal to rights holders as a “much better solution.” Childs agreed, calling a pool an “innovative way” to ensure drug access “instead of litigation and confrontation.” It will be a voluntary mechanism at first, said ‘t Hoen, adding it is “now up to companies to volunteer.” Kaitlin Mara may be reached email@example.com. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (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 "Patent Pooling Is Next Step For Innovative Drug Purchasing Agency" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.