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MSF Calls On Drug Companies To Pool HIV Patents

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) recently launched an e-mail campaign calling on nine of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies to “release their patents on specific HIV drugs into a collective pool that will increase access and affordability to treatment in developing countries,” Inter Press Service reports (Borde, 10/1).

“The campaign is inviting the companies, which include Abbott Laboratories, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer, to place the patents for a list of HIV drugs into a patent pool recently set up by Unitaid, an international agency that partners with organisations including the World Health Organization and UNAIDS to purchase drugs for developing countries,” BMJ News writes. A patent pool makes drugs once under patent available for other companies to produce and develop new versions of the drugs, “such as cheaper, generic versions of newer HIV drugs and enabling development of paediatric formulations.”

“It’s a simple idea – companies share their knowledge in return for fair royalty payments,” Michelle Childs, director of Policy & Advocacy at MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, said in an MSF press release. “But it has the potential to transform companies’ approaches to access to HIV medicines and foster innovation in a way that marks an alternative to the confrontation and litigation of the past” (9/30).

“The cost of HIV drugs is the main battle that MSF is trying to wage with this patent pool project. As numbers of people needing treatment in developing countries rises, increasing access to the drugs among vulnerable populations will be absolutely crucial,” IPS writes (10/1).

Stephen Rea, a spokesperson for GlaxoSmithKline, said, “In principle, we haven’t ruled anything out but we want to see more detailed proposals about how the scheme would work and how placing patents in a pool would stimulate research in HIV.” Rea noted that GlaxoSmithKline had already created a patent pool for drugs for other diseases, including malaria, dengue fever, and encephalitis (BMJ News, 10/2).