Saturday, October 23, 2010

Patent Pools to help AIDS Victims


Until about three days ago, I had never heard the term: Patent Pools.  A student came to the library asking for help in finding articles about patent pools for antiretrovirals.  And, after a few clicks of the mouse and a look at the databases available, I directed her to a few articles to give her a head start on her paper.  However, what I had found in the introductory materials I had perused, was of compelling interest to me.  The best introduction to the topic, which I first saw on the UNITAID site is a brief animated video, which someone has now put on youtube, called: Life-saving HIV treatment - patent pool animation . Click on the link at left for the larger version, or start the video in the smaller version below.



UNITAID is a wonderful group which is trying to find creative ways to finance the fight in the poorer nations of the world to conquer the pandemics of HIV/AIDS, malaria and pneumonia.  Millions of people die each year of these diseases without any access to life-saving drugs.

Any of us who need to take pharmaceuticals in the US, even with a prescription plan, are aware of the expense of medicines, particularly new medicines, especially if the medicine is not covered by our insurance plan.  I am personally aware of part of the reason for the expense of medicines, for I worked in biochemical research when studying for my PhD, and I know the many hours we spent in the lab trying to prove our thesis.  This is certainly the life of the scientists in pharmaceutical labs, working long hours until a remedy for a disease is proven both effective and safe.  However, at this point, the company hiring the scientists wants a unique patent for this medicine in order to make money.  The rich can pay for the drug when needed, the poor cannot.  Rather than concentrate on expensive pharmaceuticals for many diseases, I would like, for the moment, to concentrate on those for HIV/AIDS, and, particularly, for those suffering in subSaharan Africa.

When I looked at some of the information about antiretroviral pharmaceuticals made by different companies, it was clear that any of the new drugs, which can treat the new more resistant forms of HIV, are under new patents, and, therefore, not capable of being acquired for improving the life of people in developing countries.  Further, if pregnant women give birth to children while they are not on an adequate antiretroviral combination of drugs (one antiretroviral does not appear to be enough to combat the aggressiveness of the AIDS retrovirus) , the great likelihood is that the newborn child will be born HIV positive, and most likely be motherless in a short time. Unfortunately, this is the story of many children who live in subSaharan Africa where some RSHM are serving some of the needs of these children.

If there were a way that many of us could put pressure on the large pharmaceutical companies which are making the new drugs to patent them in a patent pool - e.g. to work with other companies preparing the other ingredients in a life-saving new drug combination, and to share the details with a company willing to begin to make a less expensive generic form of the combination, then there could be a way to reduce the AIDS pandemic in subSaharan Africa and, hopefully, elsewhere.  Since the group willing to accept the patent pool (and the National Institute of Health is willing, though no companies have entered the pool yet), to create a pooled patent for all the companies involved, to ensure just payment for the companies originating the new drug or drug combination, and to ensure payment to the maker of the generic product, the cost of the new pharmaceutical could be reduced dramatically, since the patent pool would be doing all that patenting and payment monitoring for all the companies involved, rather than each company acting by themselves.

There have been patent pools since 1856, some good, some poor.  But many who wish to see patent pools work for HIV/AIDS treatment, have learned much from the mistakes of the past.  The Open Aids Journal has an article entitled: Towards a Patent Pool for HIV Medicines: The Background which gives a description of the needs on many levels to set up a patent pool that is just for all involved in pharmaceuticals distribution and use.

I would hope that we, in the United States, this blessed country, can somehow get together to pressure pharmaceutical companies to be less greedy and selfish about their new antiviral medication, but rather, to join with other companies in the fight against the life-devastating effects of HIV/AIDS on whole populations, especially in developing countries.  I would love to hear from anyone who has ideas as to how we can network and invite companies to participate in new patent pools for the good of all those who suffer with HIV/AIDS and other pandemics with no resources to life-saving help.

Take some time to learn more about this topic (there is much material available even with simple Google searches). I believe that if we work together we can make a difference in the suffering of many people.


1 comment:

  1. This is brilliant, we have to act together in order to help our brothers and sisters dying from HIV/AIDS.