Patent Pooling for Promoting Access to Antiretroviral Drugs (ARVs) – A Strategic Option for India



Kanikaram Satyanarayana*, Sadhana Srivastava
Intellectual Property Rights Unit, Indian Council of Medical Research, Department of Health Research, Ansari Nagar, New Delhi 110029, India


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© Satyanarayana and Srivastava; Licensee Bentham Open.

open-access license: This is an open access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/) which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the work is properly cited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Intellectual Property Rights Unit, Indian Council of Medical Research, Department of Health Research, Ansari Nagar, New Delhi 110029, India; E-mails: kanikaram_s@yahoo.com, satyanarayanak@icmr.org.in


Abstract

The current HIV/AIDS scenario in India is quite grim with an estimated 2.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) in 2008, just behind South Africa and Nigeria. The anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) remain the main stay of global HIV/AIDS treatment. Over 30 ARVs (single and FDCs) available under six categories viz., NRTIs (nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors), NNRTIs (non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors), Protease inhibitors, the new Fusion inhibitors, Entry inhibitors-CCR5 co-receptor antagonists and HIV integrase strand transfer inhibitors. The major originator companies for these ARVs are: Abbott, Boehringer Ingelheim (BI), Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), Gilead, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Merck, Pfizer, Roche, and Tibotec. Beginning with zidovidine in 1987, all the drugs are available in the developed countries. In India, about 30 ARVs are available as generics manufactured by Aurobindo, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh; Cipla Limited, Goa; Emcure Pharmaceuticals, Pune, Maharashtra; Hetero Drugs, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh; Macleods Pharmaceuticals, Daman; Matrix Laboratories, Nashik, Maharashtra; Ranbaxy, Sirmour, Himachal Pradesh; and Strides Arcolab, Bangalore, Karnataka. The National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) set up in 1992 by the Govt. of India provides free ARVs to HIV positive patients in India since 2004. The drugs available in India include both single drugs and FDCs covering both first line and second line ARVs. Even while there are claims of stabilization of the disease load, there is still huge gap of those who require ARVs as only about 150,000 PLHA receive the ARVs from the Govt. and other sources. Access to ARVs therefore is still a cause of serious concern ever since India became fully Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)-complaint in 2005. Therefore, the Indian pharmaceutical companies cannot make generics for those for drugs introduced post-2005 due to product patent regime. Other concerns include heat stable, other better formulations and second line ARVs for adults and more drugs and formulations for paediatric groups, that are still to be widely available in India and other developing countries. To examine whether strong intellectual property (IP) protection systems are to be considered important barriers for the limited or lack of access to ARVs, we studied the patent profile of the ARVs of the originator companies within and outside India. We could record 93 patents in the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). The originator companies have been also aggressively filing and enforcing patents in India. There have been a few efforts by companies like Gilead and GSK to grant licenses to generic manufacturers in developing countries, ostensibly to promote access to ARVs through lower (two-tier) pricing. These steps are considered as too little and too late. There is an urgent need to look for alternative strategies to promote access to ARVs both linked to and independent of IPRs. Patent pooling as a viable strategy mooted by the UNITAID should be seriously explored to promote access to ARVs. India is ideally suited for trying out the patent pool strategy as most of the global requirement of affordable ARV drugs for HIV/AIDS treatment is sourced from Indian generic companies.