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Licensing deal to boost HIV drug access
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) July 12, 2011

US pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences will allow generic drug makers to copy four HIV medicines under a deal announced Tuesday to give people in poor countries access to cheaper AIDS treatment.

The HIV medicines tenofovir and emtricitabine, as well as two drugs still in clinical development, cobicistat and elvitegravir, will be manufactured in low-cost copycat form under a licensing agreement signed with AIDS drug lobby group Medicines Patent Pool, the parties announced.

Included too is a combination of these drugs in a hoped-for single pill known as the Quad.

The Medicines Patent Pool, founded by AIDS campaign group UNITAID in 2010, seeks to widen access to HIV drugs through voluntary licences with the pharmaceutical industry.

The new deal is unusual because pharmaceutical companies very rarely allow licensing of drugs for public health while still in clinical development.

"Today marks a milestone in managing patents for public health. The licence agreement with Gilead Sciences will help make medicines available at a lower cost and in easier-to-use formulations without delays," said Ellen 't Hoen, executive director of the Medicines Patent Pool.

"(...) People in developing countries often have to wait for years before they can access new health technologies. Today's agreement changed that."

Gilead will pick up royalties of three to five percent of generic sales, but will waive royalties for any formulations of the drug that are used for children.

For Michel Sidibe, the executive director of UNAIDS, the deal "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."

"I hope todays 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.

Generic drugs are a lifeline to millions of people in poor countries infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Thanks to generics, the cost of the least expensive first-generation HIV treatment has dropped to less than $86 a patient per year from $10,000 in 2000.

However, doctors need alternatives to these front-line drugs because some patients fail to respond to treatment. In addition, the AIDS virus mutates, posing a long-term resistance problem.

It is the first agreement between the Medicine Patents Pool and a pharmaceutical company.

UNITAID, headed by former French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, was set up in September 2006 to boost funding to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Its funding derives from a solidarity levy on airline tickets sold in 15 countries.

The AIDS pandemic has killed 30 million people since it first appeared 30 years ago, mainly in Africa.

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