MSF Statement on UNITAID Medicines Patent Pool Decision

Geneva, July 9, 2008 -  “UNITAID has shown great vision and understanding of what needs to be done - this could potentially have a big impact, both for access to medicines and for medical innovation," said Ellen ‘t Hoen, Director of Policy at MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines.

Geneva, July 9, 2008 -  The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) welcomes the decision by UNITAID’s executive board to take further steps towards establishing a patent pool* for medicines, in order to provide people in low- and middle-income countries with increased access to more appropriate and lower-priced medicines.

“UNITAID has shown great vision and understanding of what needs to be done - this could potentially have a big impact, both for access to medicines and for medical innovation,” said Ellen ‘t Hoen, director of policy at MSF’s Access Campaign. “Whether this works or not now depends on the willingness of patent holders to share, in exchange for royalties, the relevant patent rights in the pool.”

“We need to find ways to get new drug prices down,” said Dr. Selina Lo, medical coordinator at MSF’s Access Campaign. “Today we pay at best between US$613 and $1,022 for the newer WHO-recommended regimen for first-line AIDS treatment. This is a seven to twelve-fold increase compared to older first-line treatments which are now available for $87 for one patient’s yearly treatment. As we’ve seen with the older antiretrovirals to treat AIDS, increased competition is the best way to do that – a patent pool can foster this competition.”

“Patent pools also open up the possibility of developing more fixed-dose combinations (FDC), which combine several drugs into one pill,” said Ellen ‘t Hoen. “Patents on the individual components of a fixed-dose combination can stand in the way of the development and production of an FDC.  A patent pool gets around that by offering producers a one-stop-shop for licences from the different intellectual property owners. Generic companies obtain licences against the payment of royalties that will enable them to put the different components of a fixed-dose combination together.  The same is true for the development of more child-friendly medicines.”

* A patent pool is a mechanism whereby a number of patents held by different entities, such as companies, universities or research institutes, are made available to others for production or further development, for example of paediatric formulations or fixed-dose formulations. The patent holders receive royalties that are paid by those who use the patents. The pool manages the licences, the negotiations with patent holders, and the receipt and payment of royalties.

A patent pool can help speed up the availability of generic versions of new medicines because the development can start well before the 20-year patent term runs out.  At the same time, it will help to increase the size of the potential market because companies that produce drugs under licence from the patent pool will be able to export them to any of the countries designated by the pool’s licences.

Patent pools are part of World Health Organization’s recently-adopted Global Strategy on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property to help increase access to medicines.  Learn more.