UK DRUGMAKER GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has said it will stop seeking patent protection and give greater confidence to generic drug makers to produce cheaper versions of its medicines in low-income countries.
GSK announced the plan at the UN High Level Panel on Access to Medicines, held in Johannesburg on 17 March. The company said it will file no patents and give generic drug makers “clarity and confidence” to make cheaper versions of its drugs in the lowest income and developing countries such as Niger and Mozambique.
As part of the plan, GSK said it will also seek patents, but grant 10-year licences in exchange for royalties to generic drug makers in another 51 countries such as Vietnam and Sri Lanka that are classed as “lower-middle” income countries. GSK said this offer will still stand for the duration of the licences, even if countries move out of this zone due to increased economic growth.
The plan will affect a total of 85 countries and potentially over 2bn people. GSK said it will continue to file full patents in higher-earning countries, however GSK medicines on the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) list of essential medicines will be included in the changes.
Andrew Witty, CEO of GSK said: “The changes we are setting out aim to make it as clear and simple as possible for generic manufacturers to make and supply versions of GSK medicines.”
GSK also announced it would commit its future cancer drugs to the Medicines Patent Pool – an organisation that works to provide generic drugs to the world’s poorest countries – so that the company can help address the issue of “the increasing burden of cancer in developing countries”.
Medicines Patent Pool was established in 2010 and has been successful in accelerating access to drugs for HIV, TB and hepatitis C.
“Changes to patents will not solve the multi-faceted challenges of improving healthcare in developing countries,' said Witty.
'In cancer for example, improving outcomes in developing countries requires better funding, improved screening and diagnosis, more cancer doctors and better hospital services as well as access to treatments. However, we believe the measures outlined today add to the wider contribution GSK makes to improve access to effective healthcare around the world.
“The experience GSK has with the Medicines Patent Pool for Tivicay – our newest HIV medicine – gives us confidence that increasing access, incentivising innovation appropriately and achieving business success can go hand in hand,” he continued.
Rohit Malpani, director of policy and advocacy for the international humanitarian-aid organisation, Doctors Without Borders, said that while GSK has gone further than other drug makers, the move would have limited effect. This would be partly due to the fact that 48 nations that fall under the UN’s “least-developed countries” category are already exempt from patent enforcement until 2033 under a World Trade Organization agreement. Malpani added that three-quarters of the world’s poorest people live in middle-income countries, and that he believes around half of those will not benefit from any special provisions.
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