By Sharon Atieno

As the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies across the globe, a coalition of 18 generic pharmaceutical companies have joined the effort of Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), a public health organization to increase access to new interventions for low-and middle- income countries.

“This unprecedented cooperation from companies that are typically competitors represents a breakthrough in our efforts to level the playing field for access to drugs that will be crucial to controlling and defeating this pandemic,” said Charles Gore, Executive Director of MPP.

“These are companies with an excellent track record of working with originators to ensure generic versions of their innovations meet high standards for quality—while answering the need for more affordable, accessible therapies.”

The 18 companies which include Adcock Ingram, Arene, Beximco, Celltrion, Desano, Emcure, Hetero, Langhua Pharma, Laurus Labs, Lupin, Macleods, Mangalam, Micro Labs, Natco, Strides Shasun, Sun Pharma and Zydus Cadila have the capacity to deliver substantial amounts of conventional drugs known as small molecules and an increasing ability to produce more molecules known as biologics, that have shown promise as potential ways to either treat or prevent infections- but cost and manufacturing capacity hinder global deployment.

Gore said he hopes the pledge by such a respected group of generic industry players to produce large volumes of high-quality COVID-19 treatments will encourage firms now developing either new or re-purposed therapies to negotiate agreements allowing rapid access to those in need. This can be either through licensing of their intellectual property, or where licences are not needed, facilitating ways to scale up manufacturing capacity to meet the high demands.

“We welcome this pioneering collaboration and encourage others to join. Making sure there is enough supply capacity of potential game-changing treatments for COVID-19 is critical to ensure equitable access in low- and middle-income countries. Using the proven MPP model to ensure access to effective and affordable health solutions not only makes sense in this COVID-19 emergency but is the right thing to do,” said Dr Philippe Duneton, Executive Director of Unitaid.

The companies joining the effort are connected by their past work with MPP, an organisation created in 2010 by the global health initiative Unitaid to negotiate patent licence agreements with pharmaceutical companies that are placed in a pool to make them more easily accessible for generic manufacturers.

Thus far, agreements negotiated by MPP with companies such as ViiV Healthcare, Bristol Myers Squibb and Abbvie have allowed generic producers to provide over 15 billion doses of HIV and hepatitis C medicines to low- and middle-income countries. Despite the logistical challenges of the pandemic, in the first six months of 2020 alone, MPP’s licensees have delivered three billion doses.

Combining the capacity of generic firms with patent agreements negotiated by MPP is increasingly viewed as an important addition to efforts to ensure COVID-19 interventions are available outside of the world’s wealthiest countries.