US medicines manufacturer Gilead Sciences said yesterday it has sealed an agreement with the United Nations' Medicines Patent Pool to allow other manufacturers to copy four of its drugs in exchange for a small amount of royalties on their sales. But the company is waiving any royalty payments on formulations made for children.
This is the first time the UN group has won the right for other drugs firms to make drugs whose patents are owned by private companies.
It means people with HIV in poor countries will have a real chance of getting not just the basic, cheap drugs to keep the virus at bay, but some of the best medicines on offer anywhere in the world - at a price their governments can afford.
“This agreement between the Medicines Patent Pool and Gilead signals a new era in the response to HIV with private and public sectors working hand in hand for the best interests of public health,” said Michel Sidibé, from the UN Aids programme, UNAIDS.
“I hope today’s announcement will inspire other pharmaceutical companies to follow suit to share intellectual property and innovation to make new technological advances in HIV treatment available sooner to the people that need them most,” he added.
Big pharmaceutical companies normally keep hold of the patented sales rights for their drugs for 10 years or longer, which often means that people in poor countries have to wait until the patents have run out before other companies can make copies of the drugs more cheaply.
Gillead’s agreement to put certain drug patents into a pool will also let generic drugs companies make combinations of drugs from different companies (provided other companies follow Gilead's lead. With Gilead, the UN agency said sharing the drug recipes c will make them available much sooner.
Thirty- three million people in the world have HIV, the virus that causes Aids, and most of them live in Africa. But at the moment, many poor countries only have access to older drugs to treat the disease, some of which have nasty side effects.
Two of the Gilead drugs, tenofovir and emtricitabine, are key parts of current Aids therapy. The other two drugs are still being developed.