Experts at WHO Say Patent Pools Can Stimulate Research, Medicines Access

Patent pools are one of the proposals likely to be effective in stimulating new research and development of medicines needed in developing countries, a WHO expert report has just concluded. The report also recommends the international community negotiate a binding agreement that aims at providing effective financing and coordination mechanisms to promote research and development on diseases disproportionately affecting developing countries.

A briefing document on Patent Pools in the expert report, as well as in other WHO and UN documents, is available here in English [pdf], as well as in Spanish, [pdf], and in French [pdf].

The World Health Organization’s Consultative Expert Working Group, set up to examine new and innovative ways to finance research and development into medicines particularly needed in resource-poor settings, has released its final report. The report is available in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic (links all go to PDF files).

21-26 May 2012: The World Health Assembly:
The report of the CEWG will be discussed by member states and decisions on how to take its work forward are expected to be made.

It concludes that patent pools are one of a series of proposals best meeting the experts’ criteria — criteria such as public health impact, cost-effectiveness, technical and financial feasibility, ability to manage intellectual property for health, ability to delink the costs of R&D from the price of drugs, increase access, build capacity and have accountable governance. Other highlighted proposals included a global framework for R&D, open approaches to innovation, pooled funds, milestone and end prizes for development, and grants to companies for the development of needed medicines.

The expert group said that in particular the Medicines Patent Pool could contribute to delinking the cost of research and development from the price of drugs through its innovative use of patents to stimulate generic competition, and by signing licences that encourage technology transfer to sub-licensees.

The report adds that the Pool’s potential to aid public health is “high,” could be “highly cost-effective,” and “could contribute to the efficient use of public funds in respect of R&D and access.”

The Medicines Patent Pool is pleased that the expert group recognised its role as a useful mechanism to incentivise innovation and facilitate access to HIV medicines. The Pool was created with the support of innovative financing mechanism UNITAID to help address unmet HIV needs in developing countries through promoting wider availability and access to existing and new treatments, and the development of new formulations needed in resource-poor settings including heat-stable and fixed-dose combination treatments, and in particular formulations suitable for children.

The Patent Pool was in part created to help delink the cost of research and development on needed new drugs from the price of those drugs when they go to market. By encouraging generic competition, the Pool hopes to bring prices down to affordable levels.

In May the World Health Assembly will discuss the CEWG report and consider the recommendation to commence negotiations for a medical R&D treaty. Like the Pool, a key focus of the treaty is the attempt to delink R&D from the cost of medicines, so that incentives to develop new drugs are based on need rather than on the availability of markets.

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