US Government First to Share Patents with Medicines Patent Pool

Kudos to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for being the first in the world to share patents with the newly established Medicines Patent Pool!

Just last week, President Obama signed a Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development that focuses on sustainable development outcomes and places a premium on broad-based economic growth, democratic governance, game-changing innovations, and sustainable systems for meeting basic human needs. The new Policy aims to leverage innovation to solve long-standing development challenges, encourage new models for innovation and to increase developing countries’ utilization of science and technology. A fact sheet on the policy appears on WhiteHouse.gov.

The initial contribution by the NIH and co-patent owner the University of Illinois at Chicago embodies these commitments and takes an important step toward making affordable and appropriate HIV medicines available to patients around the world. It builds on the President’s previous commitment to support humanitarian licensing policies to ensure that medications developed with U.S. taxpayer dollars are available off-patent in developing countries. The patents—which previously have been licensed for the HIV drug darunavir—are relevant to protease inhibitor HIV medicines, which are primarily used to treat drug-resistant HIV infection. The license to the Medicines Patent Pool stipulates that the technology will be available for the benefit of all low- and middle-income countries, as defined by the World Bank, and is royalty-free. The text of the licensing agreement is available on the UNITAID website (pdf).

The Medicines Patent Pool is supported by UNITAID, an innovative global health financing mechanism that was co-founded by Brazil, Chile, France, Norway and the United Kingdom at the United Nations General Assembly in 2006. It is a voluntary mechanism through which pharmaceutical patent holders can choose to license their patents to the Pool. The Pool then makes the licenses available to qualified third parties, such as generic drug manufacturers, which will pay appropriate royalties on the sale of the medicines for use in developing countries.

The Medicines Patent Pool is designed to:

  • speed up the pace at which newer medicines reach patients;
  • help bring prices down by encouraging competition among multiple producers; and
  • facilitate new medicine formulations, including versions for children and versions in which several drugs are combined into a single pill.

As patent owners from around the world—including governments, companies, universities, non-profits, and individuals—license their HIV technologies to the Medicines Patent Pool, it will become a one-stop shop for efficient licensing of the technologies that are necessary for the production of generic versions of patented HIV medicines.

It’s important to note that multiple patents are involved in each HIV medicine, so the patents licensed today are not sufficient to produce or sell any single drug. Thus it’s critical that other patent holders also share their patents with the Pool.

As a global leader in research and development, the United States has an important catalyzing role to play in promoting voluntary mechanisms that will increase competition to provide innovative, affordable health technologies to people in low- and middle-income countries. The U.S. contribution to the Medicines Patent Pool, combined with licenses from private-sector partners and governments from around the world, presents an exciting opportunity to do just that and promote access to medicines globally.

Again, kudos to the NIH and the Medicines Patent Pool!

Hillary Chen is Advisor to the Deputy Director for Policy in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

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