An enormous barrier in the fight against HIV/AIDS in developing nations has started to crumble.
Last month, the international drug purchaser and WHO-partner organization UNITAID announced plans to form a patent pool to lower the cost of some of the most expensive medications used to treat HIV, reports the Guardian. The agreement is a blessing for the estimated 14 million people who do not have access to affordable treatment — most of whom live in developing nations, says UNAIDS, a branch of the UN that deals specifically with HIV/AIDS.
The patent pool will allow generic pharmaceutical companies to develop medications that are still protected under patent laws in exchange for royalties. Consequently, the competition between generic manufacturers lowers the overall price of the drug. By UNITAID's estimate, the cost of some drugs will fall from $1,000 a year to as little as $100.
Not only will more people have access to these new drugs, the drugs themselves will become better. Fixed-dose combination medications (FDCs), formed from different compounds that work well when used together but are often developed by competing pharmaceutical companies, have been hard to create under old patent laws, reports UNITAID. In contrast, the pool gives manufacturers access to a variety of different compounds to make more effective and easier-to-use FDCs.
So far, UNITAID has identified 19 drugs from nine different pharmaceutical companies to bring into the pool. Although there has been resistance by a few of the companies — who are in no way obligated to enter the pool — many like Merck and Gilead have already pledged to put some of their top medications into the pool. “Today is a good day for people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries,” noted one UNITAID official.