2010: Medicines Patent Pool get its first patent

2 min
Photograph by Heidi Spillane
An MSF national doctor consults with an HIV patient in the MSF/CDC clinic in Nanning, Guangxi Province, southwest China in July 2010

In a move that could boost access to affordable medicines in the developing world, the Medicines Patent Pool was formally created in July 2010. The pool has received significant political backing from WHO, the G8, and a number of countries who have made it clear that collective action is needed from companies to match the commitments from countries to tackle the HIV epidemic.

MSF has been actively campaigning for the creation of the Pool since 2006. MSF treats over 170,000 people with HIV across the developing world largely thanks to the availability of affordable generic medicines. As people on treatment become resistant to their drug combinations over time, access to newer medicines is constantly needed – but these are more expensive.

The mission of the Medicines Patent Pool is to facilitate the production of cheaper medicines for the developing world, by allowing generic manufacturers to produce copies of patented drugs, in exchange for royalty payments to the rights holders. The goal is also to support the development of urgently-needed formulations that don’t exist, such as ‘fixed-dose combinations’ that combine two or more medicines into one pill, or adapted formulations for children.  

In September 2010, the Medicines Patent Pool received its first licence when the US National Institutes of Health agreed to licence its rights on the AIDS drug darunavir to the Pool. This is an important first step, but the licence itself does not allow for production of darunavir, as further patents are held by Johnson & Johnson. Significantly, the licence was for all developing countries, including those in the middle-income bracket. Four pharmaceutical companies are currently in talks with the Pool (Gilead, Roche, ViiV and Sequoia), but MSF is urging all entities that hold patents on HIV drugs to share their patents with the Pool.

Drug companies must now step up and put their patents in the Pool. It is important that future licences be public health-driven; meet the health needs of people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries and do not contain restrictive or anti-competitive terms that limit competition and sources of manufacturing and distribution of the active pharmaceutical ingredient and final products.

Last update July 2011