More Details Emerge About UNITAID’s Plan For Patent Pool For HIV/AIDS Drugs

News outlets continued to follow UNITAID’s recent announcement to create a patent pool aimed at lowering the cost of HIV/AIDS drugs for low- and middle-income countries. Though UNITAID’s board “voted Monday to create a board to run the new patent pool, and set a target of having five AIDS drugs in the pool by mid-2010,” the group “punted on the thorny issue of which countries outside of Africa to include in the pool,” Forbes reports. Some drug makers have voiced opposition to the inclusion of countries such as Brazil, China and India in the patent pool, viewing “these as lucrative new markets,” the magazine writes.

Forbes continues: “Without naming specific countries, UNITAID said it wants all developing countries to benefit from the patent pool. ‘We didn’t feel it would be helpful to restrict the pool to a small number of countries,’ explains UNITAID official Ellen ‘t Hoen. ‘This is a voluntary measure [for companies], and that is the reality we have to work with.'”

The article includes information on those who have come out in support of the measure, including Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), House Committee on Energy and Commerce chairman. According to Forbes, Waxman “recently urged the Obama administration to support the plan in a letter to Hillary Clinton” (Herper/Bahree, 12/15).

UNITAID’s decision places increasing pressure on “[n]ine western pharmaceutical companies to ease control over their HIV medicines,” the Financial Times writes. The group is focusing on 19 HIV medicines made by Abbott, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gilead, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Pfizer, Roche and Tibotec. “While boosting total volumes of drug sales, the pool would also waive the patent holders’ legal rights to charge high prices for their drugs,” the newspaper writes.

The Financial Times adds: “Gilead, the U.S. company that has the largest market share of HIV medicines, said: ‘We believe if structured appropriately, UNITAID’s patent pool can play a critical role in expanding access to antiretroviral treatment for patients around the world'” (Jack, 12/15).

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