The NGO delegation to UNITAID has warmly welcomed the news that the Medicines Patent Pool, a public health focused organisation which facilitates generic production of affordable HIV medicines, has been given a mandate to broaden its work to negotiate generic licenses relating to hepatitis C (HCV) and tuberculosis (TB).
The decision was made on Thursday 5 November 2015 at the 23rd Executive Board meeting of UNITAID, a multilateral health organisation focused on failings in the markets for AIDS, TB, HCV and malaria diagnostics and medications. UNITAID is supported by France, the UK, Brazil, Chile, Norway and Korea, as well as the Gates Foundation.
The Medicines Patent Pool has spent five years negotiating and securing progressive licence agreements with companies including BMS, Viiv, Merck, AbbVie, and Gilead for anti-retroviral HIV treatment – helping to reduce the price and increase availability of the lifesaving antiretrovirals across most of the developing world.
The UNITAID Board member for NGOs, Brook Baker of Health GAP, welcomed the move into HCV:
“This is an incredibly hopeful time for people living with HCV. For the first time we have highly effective medicines that can cure patients in 12 weeks. But any hope is tempered by the reality that the prices charged by the originator companies are way beyond the reach of most people in the world – particularly those in larger middle-income countries where the disease hits hard.”
“We believe the MPP can help secure better voluntary licence agreements so more people can access quality-assured generic versions of these life-saving medicines, and urge BMS, MSD and Gilead to enter negotiations with the Pool without delay.”
But he also sounded a note of caution:
“Most people affected by HCV are living in middle income countries, so the drug companies must include all developing countries in the voluntary licences negotiated by the MPP. Governments excluded from voluntary licence deals should move fast to utilise all flexibilities allowed to secure access to the medicines their people need, and we ask that UNITAID urgently accelerate its efforts to support such initiatives.”
The Board of UNITAID also endorsed a new stream of work for the Medicines Patent Pool in tuberculosis. TB expert Austin Arinze Obiefuna of Afro Global Alliance explained the significance:
“This decision paves the way for two exciting moves. Firstly, the MPP can bring its experience in HIV to the problems blocking affordable access to the vital new drug-resistant TB medicines that already exist. Secondly, the MPP will be at the heart of innovative efforts to transform the way we develop new TB medicines – a transformation that is essential to realising the new Global Goal to end TB by 2035.”
“The MDR TB medicines we have now are simply less effective and sometimes cause terrible side-effects. With 1.5 million TB deaths a year and a rapidly expanding drug resistant TB epidemic, we are in desperate need of new tools. Now, in partnership with the WHO and others, we hope the MPP can help create a better system for developing new TB medicines. We are particularly excited about its role in the MSF 3Ps initiative. If it works, the new medications which result could save millions of lives.”
- The UNITAID NGO delegation is a stakeholder group acting as an advisory body and sounding board to the NGO Board members. The delegation provides input to Board members’ stances on key UNITAID issues, and ensuring that Board members effectively and accountably represent their wider constituencies of NGOs.
- The MPP is a United Nations-backed organisation offering a public-health driven business model that aims to lower the prices of medicines and facilitate the development of better-adapted through voluntary licensing and patent pooling.
- The 3P Project aims to improve the TB pipeline by creating new incentives for innovation through push-funding, pull-funding and a pooling mechanism to encourage open sourced research and safeguard accessibility.