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  • A practical way to improve access to medicines

Michael A Friedman and colleagues argue that using voluntary licences would promote access to affordable medicines for the world's poor, while reaffirming patents as vital for successful pharmaceutical research.

There is much disagreement between the pharmaceutical industry and advocacy groups about how to provide patented medicines in poor countries. And although pharmaceutical patents only rarely impede access to medicines in poor countries, this is reason enough to find a solution to the problem.

In this article in The Lancet, three authors from the pharmaceutical sector, a non-profit generics company, and academia propose that the use of so-called out-licences (or voluntary licences) could be the answer. Such a framework would allow several generic manufacturers to compete against one another on price in poor countries (but not against the patent holder in rich countries).

They suggest that the use of out-licensing in this way would promote access to affordable medicines for the world's poor, while reaffirming patents as indispensable for successful pharmaceutical research.

But the authors also highlight the multibillion-dollar shortfall of foreign aid money for diseases that affect the poor, notably HIV/AIDS. They say that if the efforts of pharmaceutical companies are to succeed they must be complemented by donor funding. The fact that the G-7 countries are neglecting these obligations in a time of great public-health crisis, they say, is morally scandalous.

Link to full viewpoint article in The Lancet (free registration required)
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