The Plumpy’nut Precedent

Stephanie Weber at the Univeristy of California at Berkeley raises the important issue of precedent. Will we see more patents on humanitarian relief products after Plumpy’nut? Would that be a good/bad/neutral development?

Of particular interest, when does the Plumpy’nut patent expire? I had assumed a standard term of 14 to 20 years. Needs checking.

Herewith Stephanie’s e-mail (published with permission):

I just read your blog posts. Very interesting topic! Coincidentally, a
colleague and I just gave a two hour presentation on Ready-To-Use Therapeutic Foods (Plumpy’Nut) as an approach to treating children with severe acute malnutrition.

After reading your blog, I had a few initial thoughts and questions to share with you.

First – and you might want to triangulate this statement with other people – Plumpy’nut is considered to have revolutionized the way children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) are treated. Now, instead of spending 30+ days in the hospital or nutritional feeding centers, they can be treated at home by their primary caregiver. Additionally, children are recovering more quickly, and there is no preparation necessary to give them the PN (i.e., no need to add water). PN is cheaper than the traditional mode of treatment and it tastes better.

However, there is still more research that needs to be done to measure the relapse rate of children on Plumpy’nut. For example, are children treated with PN less likely to relapse than children treated with F100?

Second – have you talked with Nutriset? It would be interesting to know why they decided to patent the formula. Also, what is it about the formula that requires patenting? The proportions of ingredients?

I believe the patent is due to expire next year, so an interesting question to consider is what has been the effect of this patent for the past five years? Were more children excluded? Was PN more expensive than it otherwise would have been? To what extent did patenting limit production?

It’s possible that the implications for the future will be more interesting than the findings on cost and access. Even with some restricted access and slightly higher cost for PN, using RUTFs to treat SAM is still way more effective and less expensive than hospitalizing kids
and treating with F100.

Ex Christine: F100 is a milk-based therapeutic food for the treatment of severe malnutrition. Also, it would be good to contact Nutriset but I think a little more background research is in order first. Of course, given this highly interconnected world we live in, Nutriset may post on the blog first?