GSK breaks industry ranks to improve access to medicines

Published: 17th February 2009

17 Feb – Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline should be congratulated for breaking industry ranks and taking a major step toward helping poor people in developing countries to get better access to medicines, says international agency Oxfam.However GSK’s initiative this week is just the beginning. “Big Pharma seems to be realizing slowly that poor people in developing countries face huge and different barriers to good health, and so to break into these big new emerging markets the industry must change its existing “strong patents, high cost” way of doing business,” Oxfam spokesperson Rohit Malpani said.GSK said it would cut the price of all its medicine to the world’s 52 poorest countries. “This is the first time a company has acknowledged that access to medicines is relevant to its entire portfolio of medicines, and not just for HIV and AIDS, TB and malaria,” said Malpani. “This alone won’t get the job done. Companies should reduce prices for poor people in middle-income countries too and show flexibility on intellectual property to stimulate generic competition – especially from low-cost manufacturers such as those in India – which is necessary for sustainable price reductions in poor countries.”GSK said it would introduce a patent pool where small molecules and processes would be donated to encourage innovation for neglected diseases. “This is a big step. Patents must not be a barrier to innovation into neglected diseases. However GSK has specifically excluded HIV and AIDS medicines from this patent pool. Although companies have reduced the prices of such medicines, new first and second line anti-retroviral medicines are often 5 to 10 times more expensive than older, off-patent first line medicines,” Malpani said.GSK will invest 20% of the profits it gets in least-developed countries into health infrastructure in those countries. “GSK is right to identify health infrastructure as a big challenge in poor countries. GSK could reinforce good or bad practices, depending on how it spends this money. We hope GSK will strengthen the public health care system in poor countries, and not invest into private sector delivery that sits outside of the health care system,” Malpani said.“The pharmaceutical industry is making strides to improve poor people’s access to medicines, albeit too slowly. The industry must understand, as it looks to open up new markets in the world’s emerging economies, that there is much it must still do to help poor people get better access to medicines,” he said.

Big Pharma seems to be realizing slowly that poor people in developing countries face huge and different barriers to good health.
Rohit Malpani
Oxfam Policy Advisor