UNITAID decision to fund ‘patent pool’ to boost access to new medicines

UNITAID and MSF press releases

On 15 December 2009, UNITAID, an international health financing agency, agreed to fund a licensing agency that will be able to administer a patent pool for AIDS medicines.

This will offer licenses to generic manufacturers, and has the potential to reduce prices and facilitate the combination of drugs from different makers into fixed-dose combinations. This first step with mean that formal negotiations with drug companies can hopefully now begin.

UNITAID has identified 19 products from nine companies for potential inclusion into the pool.  Companies that UNITAID has already consulted include Gilead, Tibotec, Merck and Sequoia.

This programme is supported by the Medecins Sans Frontiers’ Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. “This is an important decision, but the pool will be judged on its outcome for patients,” said Michelle Childs, Director of Policy & Advocacy at MSF. “We’ve been encouraged by the positive responses from a number of companies to our campaign in support of the pool.  Now that the pool has been given a green light, patent holders need to move from expressions of general support to firm and formal license commitments.  We urge them to do so. This needs to happen fast, as the clock is ticking for millions of

“The Board has confirmed that this pool is for all developing countries, but as this is a voluntary mechanism, the ultimate outcome will depend on the decisions of patent holders. Countries can still use the legal mechanisms at their disposal such as compulsory licensing and pro-health patent laws to ensure people have access to the life-saving medicines they need.”

Source: MSF and UNITAID press releases, (14/15 Dec 2009).

UNITAID Executive board approves breakthrough plan to make AIDS treatment more widely available at lower cost: patent pool could save over one billion dollars a year.

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