Good News for Children Living With HIV

Without treatment, there is about a 35% chance that an HIV positive mother will pass HIV to her baby. With proper diagnosis and treatment, the chances of mother-to-child transmission of HIV can be virtually eliminated. Here in the USA, less than 1% of infants born to HIV positive mothers become HIV positive. This is true across most of the western world where diagnosis and treatment are widely available.

This huge accomplishment has resulted in the near eradication of pediatric HIV/AIDS in the USA and Europe. But there was a downside to this impressive feat. Since pediatric HIV/AIDS is no longer a problem in the west, western pharmaceutical countries had little economic incentive to invest in appropriate drug treatment regimes for children with HIV.  The drugs that do exist are rare and very expensive.

The thing is, there are over 3 million children living with HIV around the world–mostly in Africa. Typical adult ARV medicines are inappropriate for children, so something had to be done to ensure these children get the medicines they need and deserve.

Enter UNITAID, a World Health Organization Affiliated group that looks for creative ways to finance health interventions for HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB. In 2010 UNITAID launched the Medicines Patent Pool in which drug companies agree to let generic versions of their drugs be manufactured for the distribution in countries where those drugs are needed the most.  The pharmaceutical companies still get some royalties out of this deal, but far less than from the sale of non-generic versions of their drug. Health ministries could not even afford the expensive versions of some of these drugs, so pharmaceutical companies opt into the patent pool to make a smaller profit rather than no profit at all.

Since it was created three years ago drug companies have started to get on board. Yesterday, pediatric HIV/AIDS treatment got a VERY big boost when three major pharmaceutical companies agreed to turn their licenses for pediatric HIV/AIDS drugs over to the Medicine Patent Pool.

The Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) today announces the launch of a new collaboration with ViiV Healthcare – a joint venture of GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and Shionogi – to facilitate greater availability of critically needed medicines for children living with HIV…

Under the collaboration, one key paediatric HIV medicine recommended by the WHO, abacavir, can be supplied in the 118 countries where 98.7% of children living with HIV reside, under a patent licence.

MPP and ViiV Healthcare have also agreed to negotiate further licences that will allow manufacture of low-cost versions of promising new, better adapted paediatric medicines that ViiV Healthcare is currently developing. These could then be sold in the 118 countries once the medicines receive quality and safety approval from drug regulators. ViiV Healthcare and MPP have also agreed to work together on various fronts, including with other stakeholders to explore the development of more paediatric medicines to become available in developing countries (see notes to the editor). MPP and ViiV Healthcare have also committed to considering solutions for countries outside the 118.

This is a good example of how the international community, pharmaceutical companies and citizens around the world are coming together to find creative solutions to some of the worlds most pressing global challenges.  With more and more studies showing that HIV treatment leads to AIDS prevention, this agreement is potentially a huge step toward the promise of an AIDS-Free generation within our lifetime.