S.Africa taps patent pool for neglected diseases

* Government is first to use industry-backed patent pool

* Aim is to develop low cost drugs for TB, malaria

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO, May 5 (BestGrowthStock) – South Africa will use a new
“patent pool” to work on new drugs for tuberculosis and
malaria, making it the first government to take advantage of
the industry-led idea.

The pool aims to speed development of drugs for neglected
tropical diseases by freely sharing patented information owned
by drug companies and academic institutions.

Mamphela Ramphele, chairwoman of the South African
Technology Innovation Agency, said on Wednesday her agency
will use the patents and know-how provided through the pool set
up last year by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L: ).

The pool contains more than 2,300 patents that are
available for use by industry, non-profit groups and academic
researchers to develop new medicines for malaria, cholera and
more than a dozen other diseases.

“TB is a devastating disease for the people of South
Africa, particularly with the compromised immune status of many
South Africans because of HIV-AIDS. We are extremely anxious to
be able to produce new drugs to address this disease,” Ramphele
told reporters at the Biotechnology Industry Organization
convention in Chicago.

She said 1,500 people die of TB every day in South Africa,
where 200,000 people are infected with HIV.

“This patent pool is an enormous boost for us to have a
significant impact in South Africa,” said Ramphele.

Her agency will coordinate and nurture drug development
among local companies, including the South African firm iThemba
Pharmaceuticals, which has already announced plans to use the
pool to do research into new TB drugs.

The pool now includes patents and other resources from
Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (ALNY.O: ), the Emory Institute for Drug
Discovery, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which
on Wednesday said it would contribute to the pool.

The measures are targeted at 50 nations considered the
world’s least developed, many in Africa.

SHARING KNOW-HOW

Melinda Moree, chief executive of BIO Ventures for Global
Health, which runs the effort, says the pool not only provides
free use of patents, but also know-how and expertise.

“Frankly, expertise and know-how are often some of the more
valuable aspects of drug development, and also things that
companies don’t usually share,” she said in an interview.

“This pool has both of these things (patents and
expertise), which I think makes it fairly unusual.”

Moree said other large drug companies are interested in
signing up to the pool, but would not name them. The pool
contains patents for compounds that have a potential to be
developed into drugs.

“The entire premise of the pool is really about opening up
the innovation process around drug development for neglected
disease. Millions of people are suffering from them every day.
Drug development has lacked. Tens of millions of people are too
poor to pay for the drugs,” Moree told the briefing.

“This is really a step on the part of industry to try a new
model around one of the things that has sparked contentious
debate around intellectual property,” she said.

Pharmaceutical companies have drawn fire for fiercely
backing patents that blocked cheaper competitors, even in the
poorest countries, where brand-name medicines were
unaffordable.

Glaxo and others have responded by selling AIDS drugs in
certain areas without a profit and offering licenses to generic
makers. [ID:nLE670439] [ID:nLG185293]

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(Additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London; Editing by
Maggie Fox and Cynthia Osterman)

S.Africa taps patent pool for neglected diseases