What Purpose Unitaid’s Patent Pool?
Unitaid is a multilateral fund to provide sustainable funding for AIDS medicines, financed in part by small levies on airline tickets. Recently, Unitaid has taken steps to expand its remit to research and development (R&D) and has established a patent pool for the intellectual property rights protecting anti-retroviral medicines (ARVs). The rationale behind this move is the perception that patents on ARVs held by different companies hinder development of new “fixed dose combination” drugs (FDCs), because of the legal complications associated with combining patents held by different rights holders. These FDCs form the backbone of AIDS treatment programmes in Africa and new combinations are needed for specific subpopulations such as children.
The Unitaid patent pool will ask companies to voluntarily contribute patents on ARVs, which will allow third party organisations to research and experiment with different combinations. Any new medicines that emerge from the pool will be sold on a non-profit basis and the original patent owners will be given a royalty determined by the patent pool administrators and underwritten by Unitaid funding. In June 2010 a separate legal entity, the Medicines Patent Pool Foundation, was established to administer the pool. At the time of writing, no pharmaceutical company has committed a patent.