Activists urge Eurasian states to order more affordable medicines, after HIV patent is dropped

  • AbbVie has waived its patent rights for HIV drug, lopinavir/ritonavir (LPV/r), in many parts of the world, including for the member states of the Eurasian Patent Office (EAPO).
  • Treatment activists within the EAPO countries, and the broader region, are urging governments to take the logical step of procuring generic versions, which meet the same standard, but for a third of the price in some cases. 
  • The region has a HIV treatment gap. Procuring more affordable medicines would enable more people to access life-saving treatment.

The decisions that AbbVie has made over the years, in order to protect its monopolies on lopinavir/ritonavir (LPV/r), has led treatment activists to take multiple actions.

Civil society organizations have repeatedly appealed to AbbVie to lower the price of its HIV treatment, or to allow governments to purchase generics through a licensing agreement.
It has been necessary to oppose AbbVie’s patents, on the basis that they do not meet patentability criteria, and to lobby governments to issue compulsory licenses.

At the end 2019, three organizations within Eastern Europe and Central Asia formally filed objections on one of the key patents for LPV/r (011924) to remove intellectual property (IP) barriers to access to HIV treatment: Association People Plus in Belarus, Public Foundation Answer in Kazakhstan, and Association Partnership Network in Kyrgyzstan. 

Additionally, in Ukraine, a decision whether to overturn AbbVie’s LPV/r patents has been pending since 2016, when our partner, 100% LIFE, first opposed the unmerited patents.

Patent waived

Since the mid-2000s LPV/r has been a key treatment for HIV. However, now it is gradually being replaced by more advanced options. The medicine has been excluded from the European guidelines for the treatment of HIV infection, but the World Health Organization (WHO) continues to recommend it as an option for ‘second line’ antiretroviral therapy, and many countries rely on it, including across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. 

After years of civil society challenging the IP barriers posed by AbbVie’s monopolies, in April 2020, the company waived its patents.

The following patents on the Eurasian Patent Register were revoked: 011924, 014446, 20992 and 033224.

AbbVie’s unusual move followed information that LPV/r could possibly be effective in the treatment of COVID-19. Studies are ongoing, but to date, the treatment has not proven to be beneficial to treat COVID-19.

However, the patents remain revoked, and AbbVie has removed patent restrictions worldwide for all purposes, including HIV treatment as reported in the Financial Times.

Save money, save lives

This is why governments must act, to take advantage of the access to more affordable medicines, which has now opened up.

Civil society organizations across Eastern Europe and Central Asia are appealing to governments to refocus their budgets allocated for the purchase of LPV/r, to source generic versions at a much lower price. This would increase the number of people that can be treated, reducing the number of new HIV infections and saving lives.

Based on the market analysis, the savings that can made in many countries are significant – up to a third of the price, which means three times as many people could receive essential treatment.

For example, in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia the average price for AbbVie’s version has bene priced around $60 for a month course, while generics are available for less than $20 per month. Research has found LPV/r could actually be made, with a profit margin, for as little as $0.28 per day ($8.50 per month).