The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Tim Shenk,Press Officer,Direct: 212-763-5764,E-mail:,

Drug Companies Called On to Pool HIV Patents

International Email Campaign Launched Targeting Nine Largest Pharmaceutical Companies


The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without
Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) today called on nine of the
world's largest pharmaceutical companies to help accelerate the
availability of new treatments for millions of people living with
HIV/AIDS, by pooling their patents on a list of key HIV medicines.

A patent pool is a mechanism in which a number of patents held by
different parties are brought together and made available to others for
production or further development. Patent holders receive royalties
paid by those using the patents. The mechanism has been instrumental in
promoting innovations in the aeronautics and digital telecommunications
industries, for example.

Make It Happen - Help Us Get HIV Drugs in the Pool

"It's a simple idea: companies share their knowledge in return for
fair royalty payments," said Michelle Childs, director of policy and
advocacy at MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "But it
has the potential to transform companies' approaches to access to HIV
medicines and foster innovation in a way that marks an alternative to
the confrontation and litigation of the past."

UNITAID, the international drug purchasing agency, is currently
establishing a medicines patent pool for HIV drugs. Critical to its
success will be the willingness of patent owners to participate, by
including their patent rights in the pool.

"The scheme is voluntary, so companies have a choice -- and today we're
asking them to make that choice," said Childs. "This is an opportunity
for these drug companies to demonstrate that they are genuinely
committed to effective measures that allow access to life-saving
medicines for people with HIV in developing countries. Some companies
have expressed interest in the idea, but we need them to go further and
put key patents in the pool."

For people living with HIV/AIDS, the impact could be considerable. A
patent pool could speed up the availability of more affordable versions
of new medicines, as generic production could begin well before the
20-year patent terms expire. Currently, patent barriers can also
prevent innovation such as new pediatric formulations or much-needed
fixed-dose combinations.

"This opportunity comes at a crucial time," said Dr. Eric Goemaere,
medical coordinator for MSF in South Africa. "Many patients in our
programs have developed resistance to their medicines and need to
switch to newer, more effective drugs now. Because these are either
unavailable or unaffordable, patients face a return to AIDS death row
as treatment options dry up."

MSF is launching an e-mail writing campaign calling on Abbott
Laboratories, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson &
Johnson, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck & Co, Pfizer, and
Sequoia Pharmaceuticals to meet the promise afforded by this mechanism
and put their HIV drug patents in the pool. The drugs that MSF
identified to be essential for the pool based on its field experience
are all recommended by the World Health Organization for use in
developing countries.

Click here for the list of drugs that MSF is calling for to be included
in the UNITAID patent pool, and to learn more about each medicine.

MSF currently treats over 140,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in 30 countries.

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. MSF's work is based on the humanitarian principles of medical ethics and impartiality. The organization is committed to bringing quality medical care to people caught in crisis regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation. MSF operates independently of any political, military, or religious agendas.