With the global population reaching an estimated 7 billion today, the fact that nearly a billion people suffer from malaria, tuberculosis and a host of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) is a staggering fact. Despite the need for prevention and treatment, the development of technologies including drugs, vaccines and diagnostics for these diseases has been insufficient due to a lack of financial incentives for their production.
In response to this dilemma, the UN World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), National Institutes of Health, U.S. Patent & Trademark Office and BIO Ventures for Global Health joined with leading pharmaceutical companies and nonprofit research organizations (e.g., PATH) to create WIPO Re:Search, a public, searchable database of patent information that will allow research partnerships to benefit from the shared knowledge and technologies stored within the database. In an innovative, unprecedented take on promoting public-private partnerships, WIPO Re:Search membership is open to any organization that agrees with its set of guiding principles.
The regulations surrounding use of WIPO Re:Search go beyond sharing of research to include (among others) the condition that all intellectual property be subject to royalty-free licensure in Least Developed Countries (LDCs)-focused NTD research and development, as well as for the manufacture and sale of NTD products in LDCs.
The limited conditions under which intellectual property is royalty-free has sparked criticism from Doctors Without Borders, which says that limiting royalty-free licensed products to LCDs ignores the fact that many people suffering from NTDs do not live in countries that are categorized as LCDs. Although WIPO Re:Search demands that its members agree to “consider in good faith” the needs of developing countries, the rules of providing royalty-free licensed products developed through use of the database need not apply to non-LDC countries – thus “setting the bar for access too low,” according to a statement from DWB.
Even so, “WIPO Re:Search is a groundbreaking example of how a multi-stakeholder coalition can put IP to work for social benefit,” WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said at the database’s launch ceremony. “By joining WIPO Re:Search, companies and researchers commit to making selected intellectual property assets available under royalty-free licenses to qualified researchers anywhere in the world for research and development on neglected tropical diseases, malaria and tuberculosis. This commitment should accelerate the development of medicines, vaccines, and diagnostics for these diseases.”