UNITAID To Launch Patent Pool For HIV/AIDS Drugs By Mid-2010

The international drug procurement agency UNITAID on Monday unveiled plans to create a patent pool for HIV/AIDS medications to help increase access to generic versions of newer drugs at lower prices for low- and middle-income countries, Agence France-Presse reports. The patent pool “will create a common space for patent holders to license their technology in exchange for royalties” and is “scheduled to begin operating in mid-2010,” AFP reports (12/14).

“UNITAID has committed to provide start-up funds of up to US$ 4 million over the next year,” according to a UNITAID press release, which noted an annual savings of more than $1 billion a year is expected through the program. “This is an historic day,” said Philippe Douste-Blazy, chair of UNITAID’s executive board. “UNITAID has now put in place a mechanism that will make medical advances work for the poor, while compensating companies for sharing their technology” (12/14).

“UNITAID has identified 19 products from nine companies for potential inclusion into the pool,” Reuters reports. “The pool will help develop fixed-dose combinations which mix drugs from different companies in a single treatment, it said. Clinical evidence suggests these combinations are the best way for patients to receive safe, effective treatment but patents have created barriers to developing the combinations.”

Medecins Sans Frontieres welcomed the move by UNITAID. “‘Now that the pool has been given a green light, patent holders need to move from expressions of general support to firm and formal licence commitments,’ its policy director, Michelle Childs, said in a statement,” according to the news agency (Lynn, 12/15).

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