The World Intellectual Property Organization launched a consortium on Wednesday that would allow the public and private sector to share intellectual property to promote the development of new drugs to treat diseases such as malaria.
The "WIPO Re:Search" initiative hopes to speed up development of medicines, vaccines and diagnostics that might otherwise go under-researched, or might never be developed because the potential market is not lucrative enough.
"By joining WIPO Re:Search, companies and researchers commit to making selected intellectual property assets available under royalty-free licenses to qualified researchers anywhere in the world for research and development on neglected tropical diseases, malaria and tuberculosis" Francis Gurry, WIPO's director general said.
Pharmaceutical giants including AstraZeneca , GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Pfizer are among those who joined the consortium.
"Increasing access to our collective proprietary information will help advance research into treatment options for these underserved diseases," said David Brennan, chief executive of AstraZeneca and president of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA).
Research needed to discover new drugs for the treatment of tropical diseases can cost around $2-3 billion and takes up to 12 years to develop, Brennan said.
Membership of WIPO Re:Search as a user, provider, or supporter is open to all organizations that support the project's guiding principles, a WIPO statement said.
These principles include the commitment that intellectual property is licensed on a royalty-free basis for research and development on tropical diseases in any country, and on a royalty-free basis for sale of tropical disease medicines in or to least developed countries, it added.
However, Medecins Sans Frontieres expressed concern over the accessibility of the resources.
"WIPO is taking an unacceptable step in the wrong direction by setting the bar for access too low," its statement said.
"Instead of allowing all countries where neglected diseases are prevalent to access the products, the initiative restricts royalty-free licenses to least-developed countries only, with access for other developing countries negotiable."
The statement added that many patients affected by neglected tropical diseases were not in least-developed countries.
"In the Americas, for example, Chagas disease affects 21 countries, but the consortium will only provide royalty-free licenses for Haiti, where Chagas is not endemic," it said.