Johnson & Johnson Refuses To License Three HIV Drugs To Medicines Patent Pool; Invites Patent Override
from the not-so-clever dept
By their very nature, drug patents can create monopolies that allow prices to be kept artificially high. In other domains that may be simply an annoyance or inconvenience, but in the world of medicines, it can be a matter of life or death for those unable to afford those inflated prices.
To get around this, various alternatives have been suggested, such as prizes ? an example of how that might work for the development of drugs to treat HIV/AIDS was discussed recently in Techdirt. An alternative approach is the use of patent pools. Here’s how the Medicines Patent Pool explains the system:
With the patent pool model, multiple patents are ?pooled? and licensed out by one entity, in order to cut down on transaction costs for all parties involved. In the case of medicines, this allows more affordable and more adapted versions of patented drugs to be produced as generics, long before their 20-year patent terms run out. Not only will the Pool help speed up the process of getting urgently-needed newer and improved HIV medicines to people who need them at much more affordable prices, it will also foster the development of needed products that do not yet exist, such as certain ? fixed-dose combination? (FDC) pills containing two or more newer medicines in one pill, adapted medicines like those that can be used in hot climates without refrigeration, and HIV medicines for children.
The Pool is a win-win-win model, whereby patent holders are compensated for sharing their patents, generic manufacturers gain access to markets, and patients benefit more swiftly from appropriate and adapted medicines at more affordable prices.
This is not a matter of “expropriating” patents, but removing roadblocks and simplifying licensing mechanisms so that everyone gains. Sadly, that’s not how Johnson & Johnson sees it:
on December 19, Johnson & Johnson continued to turn its back on people living with HIV/AIDS in many developing countries by telling the Pool it refused to license its patents on the HIV drugs rilpivirine, darunavir, and etravirine.
Johnson & Johnson’s reason? According to Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF):
Johnson & Johnson says there is no urgency for making these drugs widely available in developing countries. That?s simply not true. MSF now provides treatment to more than 180,000 people living with HIV worldwide, and is beginning to witness the inevitable, natural phenomenon of treatment failure, whereby people develop resistance to the drugs they are taking and need to graduate to newer medicines.
As MSF further points out:
Unless Johnson & Johnson and other companies take part in a collective way forward to bring affordable medicines to more people in all developing countries, they are not part of the solution as they want the public to think. They are contributing to the problem. They want to control who can make and use their drugs based on their commercial needs rather than the needs of people living with HIV.
What makes that particularly frustrating for doctors seeking to widen the availability of these drugs is that Johnson & Johnson has an entire section of its main web site entitled “Our Credo Values“, which are summarized as follows:
The values that guide our decision making are spelled out in Our Credo. Put simply, Our Credo challenges us to put the needs and well-being of the people we serve first.
Moreover, that Credo even has the following commitment:
We must constantly strive to reduce our costs in order to maintain reasonable prices.
Johnson & Johnson’s refusal to participate in the patent pool is not only ill-advised in terms of the negative publicity this is likely to generate, but ultimately counterproductive. As MSF notes:
Going forward, mechanisms to promote generic competition by overriding patents?as allowed by international law?in addition to voluntary initiatives, such as the Medicines Patent Pool, will be crucial to ensuring that monopolies do not stand in the way of patients’ access to lifesaving drugs.
That is, when companies are persistently obstructive, countries will simply override patents altogether, as treaties permit when public health is at stake. Is that really what Johnson & Johnson wants?