GlaxoSmithKline urged to pool its patents on HIV drugs

Leading UK and international organisations have written to Britain’s largest drug company urging it to pool its patents on HIV medicines to help save millions of lives in developing countries.

A letter from 15 organisations, including the Stop Aids Campaign, Médecins Sans Frontières, Unicef and Christian Aid, calls on GlaxoSmithKline to join a patent pool being put together by Unitaid, which aims to improve access to drugs for HIV/Aids and other diseases in poor countries.

The patent pool would allow cheap copies and combinations of Aids drugs to be made without legal restraint or delays from the manufacturers, whose monopolies are protected for 20 years.

The letter follows an article in the Guardian in which Andrew Witty, the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, said that all he knew of Unitaid was what he had read in the papers.

On a trip to Katine in northern Uganda, where the Guardian sponsors a development project, Witty made clear his reservations about a patent pool for HIV drugs, although he said: ”I’m not saying no to anything because nobody’s actually put in front of me a really concrete proposition.” He added that GSK was already doing a lot to help those with HIV in developing countries, including funding research into drugs for children, and he was willing to let generic companies make cheap copies of its HIV drugs under licence.

Witty went to Katine at the Guardian‘s invitation to explain how his own plans to help the developing world would work in one corner of Africa.

He has cut the prices of GSK drugs in poor countries to no more than a quarter of the level in the West and promised to reinvest 20% of profits on those drugs in the developing world. He has also launched a patent pool of his own, with more than 800 compounds and molecules that might be useful to researchers into neglected diseases. HIV/Aids, he says, is not a neglected syndrome.

In response, the 15 organisations wrote in their letter: ”GSK’s insistence that a patent pool for HIV is unnecessary is surprising given the woeful lack of innovation into HIV treatments suitable for children and the obvious need for new safer and more effective fixed dose combinations for adults.” The group also urged Witty to meet Unitaid.

Alan Smith, chair of the Stop Aids Campaign, said: ”The Unitaid patent pool is our best hope of increasing access to life-saving medicines on the scale that is needed to achieve universal access.

”It is crucial that Andrew Witty and GSK … engage in an honest and positive manner with the Unitaid taskforce.” – Reuters

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