The Union for Affordable Cancer Treatment (UACT) welcomes the announcement by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) outlining a new and more flexible approach to patents and intellectual property (IP) to increase access to medicines.
UACT in particular welcomes GSK’s plans to license patents to its oncology products that are currently in development to the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) for use in developing countries.
UACT recognizes that many details need to be worked out to ensure GSK’s announcement will be followed with successful negotiation of licenses with a geographical territory and licensing terms that are acceptable and effective in expanding access. It is significant and encouraging that GSK is seeking collaboration with the MPP, a public health driven licensing mechanism that has a proven track record of successfully concluding patent license agreements for HIV and HCV. MPP agreements are transparent, include requirements for ensuring the quality of medicines and do not attach onerous restrictions on supply of generic products to countries that are not included in the agreement.
The GSK announcement is a first step for cancer patient and it is now important that other oncology companies follow suit. “There are existing medicines that should be available to people with cancer in low- and middle-income countries today, yet many patients will not receive them,” says Dr. Miriam Mutebi, a breast surgical oncologist in Kenya. “Recently the World Health Organization has included some new cancer medicines on the Essential Medicines List, but their high prices remain an important barrier.”
GSK CEO Sir Andrew Witty announced the new policy on 31 March at a meeting of the UN High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines. The Panel is considering over 170 proposals to increase access to medicines. Several of the submissions made to the UNHLP in March recommend licensing and patent pooling of new essential medicines including oncology products.
UACT expects the High-Level Panel to act on proposals to progressively delink R&D cost from medicines prices, which will lead to much needed reforms in the way new medicines are developed. The GSK announcement should be seen as one of the measures that are needed to address access problems in the near term, while governments continue to work, in parallel, on the implementation of more transformative reforms.