Student Stop AIDS campaigners staged a snowy protest today outside Johnson & Johnson, maker of the famous ‘no more tears’ baby products, demanding to know whether their Christmas present to the world would include entering negotiations to join the Patent Pool, an initiative which will provide life-saving HIV medicines to the nine million people still waiting for treatment around the world.


Johnson & Johnson, who are likely to be making their decision on the Patent Pool soon, are one of the few pharmaceutical giants not yet in negotiations over joining. They make a number of vital HIV drugs most of which currently cost thousands of pounds a year in many developing countries, pricing them out of the reach of the poor people who need them.


Their decision is being eagerly anticipated by Student Stop AIDS Campaigners across theUKwho last week delivered a petition with 24,414 signatures from members of the public wanting them to join.  Campaigners say that a positive decision would be widely celebrated, but a refusal to negotiate would be met with increased pressure and new tactics.


Student Stop AIDS Campaign coordinatorLotti Ruttersaid, “Johnson & Johnson’s decision is being watched carefully by campaigners across the world. A negative decision would fly in the face of their public image as a family-friendly company. We hope they make the right choice, but a refusal to join talks to enter the Patent Pool would mean they are closing the door on an initiative which could help countless parents and babies access life-saving HIV drugs. If they say no, we definitely won’t be going away.”


The Patent Pool, which is supported by theUKand US governments, is an innovative approach to tackling the barriers to affordable HIV medicines, creating a one-stop-shop which would make it easier for generic manufacturers to produce affordable, effective drugs. Established by UNITAID in September 2010, it has already agreed licences with pharmaceutical giant,Gilead, and is currently in negotiations with five other pharmaceutical companies including GlaxoSmithKline to reach agreement on their participation.


Johnson & Johnson’s refusal so far to enter talks has particularly angered campaigners as the National Institutes of Health, theUSgovernment’s medical research arm, has already reached agreement with the Patent Pool for the rights they own on Darunavir – a promising new HIV drug that could be particularly useful for people living with HIV whose current medication is failing. Johnson & Johnson own the rest of the patent rights, so by turning their backs on the Patent Pool they are effectively blocking access to Darunavir for those who may die without it.


Rachel Edwards, a member of the Student Stop AIDS Campaign said,


“One of the problems in the past has been companies making small, tokenistic efforts to ease access to treatment. The Medicines Patent Pool is a solution which aims to be industry-wide, matching the scale of the challenge. If J&J’s decision is negative we won’t stop campaigning – with so many millions waiting for HIV treatment we will keep pressuring J&J to join until they change their mind.”