356. We welcome the opportunity to present WHO's activities on technical cooperation in the area of public health and intellectual property. In this intervention, we would like to highlight two areas of our work: fostering R&D into new antibiotics and increasing access to hepatitis C treatment.
357. On 14 October 2016, the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois announced that it was facing an outbreak of vancomycin-resistant enterococci bacteria. Vancomycin is one of the few antibiotics that is still effective at treating methicillin-resistant staphylococcus infections, which are both common and dangerous. The hospital quarantined affected patients and took infection-control measures, including shifting surgeries to other hospitals in the region, to prevent the transmission of the resistance genes to other more deadly bacteria that are already resistant to nearly every other antibiotic.
358. This is only one episode, but it illustrates the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance. The WHO has taken a leading role in combating the rise of such resistance, including on how to foster the development of new antibiotics.
359. Together with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, the WHO launched a new initiative known as the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership. This new joint venture aims to develop new antibiotic treatments, promote their responsible use and ensure equitable access of these antibiotics. In collaboration with WHO, it will identify R&D gaps and launch projects to fill those gaps.
360. Over €2 million of seed funding has been secured from the Governments of Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Switzerland, as well as from Médecins Sans Frontières. The Partnership will work closely with all global stakeholders in antibiotic R&D to develop new antibiotic treatments, including pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, start-ups, academia, civil society and health authorities. The aim is to have at least two projects that address urgent global health needs ready for implementation by the end of 2016 and two more by the end of 2017.
361. Trade law and intellectual property policies are part of the ongoing discussions about how to combat antimicrobial resistance. Last month, the WHO, WIPO and WTO held a joint, trilateral symposium on antimicrobial resistance. The goal was to highlight the importance of global cooperation in fostering innovation of new antibiotics, assuring access to needed antibiotics, and promoting antibiotic stewardship.
362. Let us turn now our attention to another area of work. When the new Direct Acting Antivirals (DAAs) were first approved for Hepatitis C treatment in 2013, there were widespread fears that their high price would put them out of reach for the more than 80 million people with chronic Hepatitis C infections worldwide. The new medicines have few side effects and can cure the disease for more than 90% of patients within three months. But at the initial high entry prices of, for example US$84,000 in the United States, the drugs were unaffordable even in many high-income countries.
363. Nonetheless, a new WHO report, the Global Report on Access to Hepatitis C Treatment: Focus on Overcoming Barriers, released in October 2016 shows how a range of low- and middle-income countries – including Brazil, Egypt, Georgia, Indonesia, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Romania, Rwanda, Thailand and Ukraine – have been successful in getting drugs to people who need them using a series of access strategies supported by the WHO and other partners.
364. As the report documents, voluntary license agreements have allowed more than 100 countries to procure the new Hepatitis C drug from a range of generic providers. In addition, the non-filing or denial of patents based on patent oppositions filed by civil society have allowed for some local production. Egypt, for example, has driven down prices from an initially negotiated price of US$900 in 2014 to around US$170 for a three-month course of the new treatment today buying from local suppliers.
365. There are still huge differences between what countries are paying. Among middle-income countries which have no access to generic versions, the price for a three-month treatment of sofosbuvir and daclatasvir varies greatly. Costs range from US$9,400 in Brazil to US$79,900 in Romania. Some middle-income countries such as Brazil have opted for price negotiations. Using TRIPS flexibilities is another option and is described in more detail in the report.
366. High-income countries use various forms of price controls, but the study shows that those efforts have met with mixed success. High costs have led to treatment rationing in some countries, including in the European Union, where current pricing levels do not allow for treating the whole affected population. The new WHO Report that presents detailed information on prices of originator and generic treatment, where the different drugs are patented and where they are authorized for the market, will help create the market transparency needed to support country efforts to increase access to DAAs and will contribute to the implementation of the Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis that aims at eliminating hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.
367. I still have a couple of printed copies left and whoever leaves me his card, I would be happy to send over a PDF. You can also find the link to the report in our detailed report on our activities that is available as a WTO document.