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July 15, 2011

Summary & Comment: The first agreement between the Medicines Patent Pool and a pharmaceutical company – Gilead Sciences – to improve access to HIV and Hepatitis B treatment in developing countries is a commendable step towards alleviating suffering of people living with HIV and AIDs in Africa. M.Makoni

“An important first step” was announced on July 12 when Gilead Sciences became the first pharmaceutical company to sign a licensing agreement with the Medicines Patent Pool to increase access to HIV and Hepatitis B treatment in developing countries. The agreement allows for the production of four HIV medicines – tenofovir, emtricitabine, cobicistat and elvitegravir – as well as a combination of these medicines into a single pill called “Quad”. Additionally, the license allows for the development and production of other combination pills that include these medicines. Tenofovir is also used to treat Hepatitis B. “This is no doubt an important first step to making essential medicines available at a lower cost especially in countries that have had to wait years before they can afford ‘new’ medicines for HIV-related treatments”, stated Peter Prove, Executive Director of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

The Medicines Patent Pool, founded by UNITAID in 2010, aims to stimulate innovation and improve access to HIV medicines through the negotiation of voluntary licenses on medicine patents that enable robust generic competition and facilitate the development of new formulations. The Medicines Patent Pool was recently endorsed by the G8 and the UN High Level Meeting on AIDS as a promising, innovative approach to improve access to HIV medicines.

According to David Deakin of the UK faith-based organization Tearfund, “The patent pool offers a completely new paradigm to address the HIV needs of developing countries. As someone who has previously been involved in the pharmaceutical industry, the pool, although far from perfect, represents one of the biggest breakthroughs ever in beginning to develop a sustainable solution to treatment access in developing countries.” In recent months Tearfund has worked with the UK AIDS Consortium to put pressure on pharma companies to join the Medicines Patent Pool. A current initiative involves sending thousands of signatures from church members to Johnson & Johnson in the UK.

While this historic agreement between Gilead Sciences and the Medicines Patent Pool marks the first step in access to affordable medicines for people living with HIV, six other patent holders are currently in negotiations with the Medicines Patent Pool. Some concern has already been raised by Médecins Sans Frontières over the exclusion of some middle-income countries in the Gilead agreement, with the hope that future agreements are inclusive of all developing countries. “The Medicines Patent Pool will only work effectively if others follow Gilead and join the pool,” stated Deakin. “It is really important that companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Merck and Abbott now enter their own negotiations with the pool. One of the reasons given for not doing so previously was that they wanted to see the first pharma company reach a successful outcome. With Gilead this has now been achieved so there is no excuse for not entering into their own negotiations if they are serious about contributing to a sustainable solution to meet the needs of millions who need access to treatment.”

Source: AfricaFiles – Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance