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Timely Rx: HIV Drug Patent Pool

Interviewee: Peter Navario, Fellow for Global Health, CFR
Interviewer: Toni Johnson, Staff Writer, CFR.org
January 12, 2010

UNITAID, the international agency that helps improve access to HIV and TB treatments in developing countries, announced a plan to create a patent pool (Guardian) for HIV treatments for developing countries at the end of 2009. Under the plan, participating drug manufacturers of antiretrovirals would make their drugs available in a pool--in exchange for small royalty fees--to generic drugmakers, which would make the drugs cheaper in developing countries.

Peter Navario, CFR Fellow for Global Health, says a patent pool would serve four goals:

  • Cost containment, which he says is critical to ensuring universal access to HIV treatment.
  • Increasing access to newer drugs, which allows for greater effectiveness and fewer side effects.
  • Providing a greater variety of drug combinations, which could reduce the number of pills a patient takes.
  • Allowing countries and drug companies to enter into a single agreement through the pool instead of making separate agreements for each country and drug manufacturer.

A question remains about whether large middle-income countries will be allowed to participate in the pools. Navario says pharmaceutical companies see countries such as India, Brazil, and China as potentially lucrative markets outside of the pool and that giving these countries access through the pool would undermine future profits. "From their perspective, they would be fine in facilitating access for the least developed countries but negotiating for the middle-income countries is going to be a sticking point," he says.

The patent pool plan is also particularly timely in helping to make drugs more affordable, says Navario, since funding for global health has more or less plateaued. "Reducing drug costs is a critical point in increasing access to these drugs ... It is necessary but not sufficient." He says improvements are also needed in distribution networks, human resources, and infrastructure. "You can have access to all of the drugs, but if they are not getting to the pharmacies and into the patients' hands, in the end it is not much use to the patient."


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