10 June, 2011
NEW YORK – The UN High Level Meeting on AIDS – where governments have gathered to plan the future of the fight against the HIV epidemic – has endorsed the Medicines Patent Pool as a way to “help reduce treatment costs and encourage development of new HIV treatment formulations, including HIV medicines and point-of-care diagnostics, in particular for children” in an official declaration supported by the UN’s more than 190 member states.
WHO Director General Margaret Chan said during the HLM “I admire the companies that are in negotiations with the Patent Pool and the [US National Institutes of Health] for being the first to licence to the Pool.”
Innovation is essential to beating the HIV crisis, which has spread to infect 33 million people. Most of these people live in the developing world where access to HIV medicines remains a challenge.
Government statements at the HLM made it clear that the Medicines Patent Pool is being seen by political leaders at the international and national level as key to stimulating needed new research and development and also achieving the equally needed increased levels of access to the results of that R&D.
For example, South Africa expressed the hope that the “Patent Pool will help us come up with combination therapies that are less expensive, especially for 2nd and 3rd line treatment”; Thailand said it was optimistic it could have voluntary licences with the pharmaceutical industry, and therefore encouraged support of the Pool; and Brazil highlighted the importance of both the Pool and its founding organisation UNITAID.
Recent research demonstrating that antiretroviral treatment is extremely effective in preventing the spread of the virus – cutting transmission rates by 96 percent – was frequently cited during the HLM.
“We now know that we have the tools to break the back of the epidemic,” said Ellen ‘t Hoen, executive director of the Medicines Patent Pool. “But for those tools to work we need medicines to be available in huge quantities and at the lowest possible prices.”
“The Pool can contribute to making that happen. Delegates at the HLM understood that and the call on patent holding companies to engage with the Pool is getting stronger by the day.”
The Pool is currently in negotiations with F. Hoffman La Roche, Gilead Sciences, Sequoia Pharmaceuticals, Viiv Healthcare, and the US National Institutes of Health. Also expressing support for the Pool were the European Union and the United Kingdom. The UK “strongly urge[d] pharmaceutical companies to join.”