Gilead Sciences has become the first drugmaker to sign up to the Medicines Patent Pool to improve access to HIV and hepatitis B treatments in developing countries.

MPP, which was founded in 2010 by UNITAID, a funding agency which is part of the World Health Organisation, enables generics manufacturers to produce cheaper versions of widely-patented new drugs for poorer countries. In return, patent holders who license their technologies through the scheme receive small-scale royalties.

The agreement with Gilead allows for the production of generic copies of Viread (tenofovir), Emtriva (emtricitabine) and two pipeline treatments - cobicistat and elvitegravir. It also covers Quad, an investigational combination  of the four aforementioned drugs in a single pill for HIV.

The licenses will allow for the supply of tenofovir and emtricitabine in 111 countries, for cobicistat in 102 countries, and for elvitegravir and Quad in 99 countries. Gregg Alton, head of corporate and medical affairs at the US company, said the pool "is an innovative mechanism to increase access to patented medicines in a way that works for the pharmaceutical industry and people living with HIV”.

Ellen ‘t Hoen, executive director of the MPP, said the deal "marks a milestone in managing patents for public health" and the licence agreement with Gilead "will help make medicines available at a lower-cost and in easier to use formulations without delays”. In particular, she added that the licensing of elvitegravir, cobicistat and Quad while they are still in clinical development "should significantly accelerate availability. People in developing countries often have to wait for years before they can access new health technologies. This agreement changed that".

This is a major step forward for MPP given that pharmaceutical companies have not been rushing to sign up to the initiative. However Ms 't Hoen noted that the pool is currently in negotiations with six other patent holders.