The World Health Organisation has set up its Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health (CIPIH), charged with working out a way to provide access to medicines in developing countries without compromising the intellectual property of the research-based pharmaceutical industry.
The commission has the task of producing "an analysis of intellectual property rights, innovation, and public health, including the question of appropriate funding and incentive mechanisms for the creation of new medicines and other products against diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries."
It will be chaired by Ruth Dreifuss, Federal Minister of Interior in the Swiss Government between 1993-2002 whose responsibilities covered public health and scientific research. The vice-chair will be Ragunath Anand Mashelkar, director-general of India's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
The other eight members of the Commission are:
- Trevor Jones, director-general of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry;
- Carlos Correa, director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies on Industrial Property and Economics Law at the University of Buenos Aires;
- Mahmoud Fathalla, chair of the WHO advisory committee on health research;
- Maria Freire, chief executive of the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development;
- Tshediso Matona, deputy director-general in South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry;
- Fabio Pammolli, professor of economics and management at the University of Florence and director of European pharmaceutical regulation and innovation systems at the University of Siena;
- Pakdee Pothisiri, senior deputy permanent secretary of health, Government of Thailand, and formerly secretary general of the Thai Food and Drug Administration; and
- Hiroko Yamane, professor of international economic law, economic law and European Community law at the Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.
The CIPIH is due to hold its first meeting in Geneva in late March and will submit its report to the WHO 's executive board in January 2005.
Commenting on the move, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations, which represents the research-based pharmaceutical industry said that the appointment of the committee is "a positive step forward in the analysis of the global role of intellectual property and innovation".
In a statement, the IFPMA added that the Commission appears to be soundly positioned to delve into issues of intellectual property, its interfaces and linkages with pharmaceutical innovation and public health.
"The pharmaceutical industry is prepared to contribute expertise and data as may be requested by the Commission concerning these vital issues of high importance for public health," it added.
The pharmaceutical industry is working on more than 700 new medicines and vaccines for infectious diseases including nearly 100 medicines and vaccines for HIV/AIDS.