April 27th, 2011

Our Approach to Access to Medicines and the Medicines Patent Pool

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.

5 Responses to “Our Approach to Access to Medicines and the Medicines Patent Pool”

  1. Pharm Aid says

    Thank you for posting this thoughtful and articulate response to the public criticisms your company is facing. However, once again, the “slow cooking” approach to communications at J&J has put your company in a very negative position unnecessarily (just like when you decided to sue the American Red Cross). Surely J&J could find a better and more credible way to communicate.

  2. Dr. Mohga Kamal-Yanni says

    It is ironic that companies, which claim to be “innovative” resist innovative initiatives such as the UNITAID patent pool. Johnson and Johnson has instead offered to provide voluntary licenses to its key AIDS patents. Voluntary licensing is a slow and inefficient way of addressing access problems in developing countries. J&J knows of the impending urgency for new fixed dose combinations of anti-retroviral medicines, and that such combinations are only possible if all companies, including J&J, willingly negotiate with the UNITAID patent pool. Without the UNITAID patent pool, countries (or UNITAID) would have to negotiate each license– a cumbersome, potentially impossible task. By contrast, the UNITAID patent pool is a major improvement – it enables generic manufacturers to ‘use’ patents for anti-retroviral medicines without having to engage in company by company and patent by patent negotiations.

    Oxfam had hoped that J&J would lead the way and we still hope that the company will take the courageous step of joining the UNITAID patent pool now.

  3. Bruna Nota says

    I can only echo Dr. Mohga Kamal-Yanni’s comments. Care delayed is care denied and the competence of J&J should be brought to bear fully on, and contribute substantially to a rapid and reliable method for pooling medicines that will be available to those who need them most and can afford them least.

    Plodding and covering with good intentions is not an acceptable answer. J&J has the wherewithal to help with substantive progress.chedann

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