From Will Stephens, Vice President, Global Access & Partnerships, Janssen Global Services, LLC
There is a healthy debate underway on patent pools as a way to increase access to HIV medicines in the developing world. My job as head of our Company’s Global Access & Partnerships Program puts me at the center of this conversation and also gives me a unique perch to see how a patent pool might help.
Africa and the health of its people are very close to my heart. Over the last 10 years, my assignments have taken me to the continent multiple times a year, most recently this past December. Then, our entire global access team met in Johannesburg with community health workers in several challenged communities, checked our progress and made plans for our newest HIV medicine we hope will begin to be introduced this year. We’ve made great progress but the challenges are big and a patent pool may be part of the solution.
Before the Medicines Patent Pool opened its doors this year, we completed (or were in the late stages of completing) eight licensing agreements with low-cost generic companies for our two available HIV medicines and the additional HIV medicine we hope to begin introducing this year. We now have all eight signed with manufacturers in sub-Saharan Africa and India including Aspen Pharmacare of South Africa and Emcure Pharmaceuticals Ltd, Hetero Drugs Ltd and Matrix Laboratories Ltd of India. These agreements cover countries home to three out of every four people in the world living with HIV. Through these agreements, I feel we are already accomplishing key patent pool goals: to increase access to quality, safe, and effective medicines.
Over the past 18 months, my team has been in regular contact with Ellen t’Hoen, the Executive Director of the MPPF, and members of her team. I met with her this month in the UK following a productive meeting with the Student Stop AIDS Campaign and I’m meeting with her again today in New York City to continue discussions around her organization’s capacity to handle the range of intellectual property and access support issues required to deliver medicines to patients in need. Beyond managing patents for HIV medicines, we want to know how the pool will help us address the essential realities of access, including drug registration, setting up supply chains to remote areas and medical education of front-line health workers especially for our two available HIV medicines which, in the developing world, are currently only recommended for use in patients for whom other treatment has failed.
We also need to think through the implications of the pool’s short-term guaranteed funding for a long-term problem. My job is to ensure patients in need receive quality versions of our medicines, and that the necessary infrastructure is in place to consistently bring our medicines to the people who need them for the long term. We’re looking at the MPPF closely; there is much to be learned before we can determine if we should dive into that pool.