GSK to Waive Patents in Poor Countries

Glaxo SmithKline has announced it will waive patent protection for new medicines in the world’s poorest countries, such as Afghanistan, Rwanda and Cambodia, allowing cheaper generic versions to come on to the market.

Andrew Witty, retiring CEO of the UK’s biggest drugmaker, said GSK is also doing this in some countries, but plans to streamline its approach to “recognize the realities of the world.”

In countries such as Kosovo, Pakistan, Morocco and Ukraine, where incomes are somewhat higher, the company plans to offer licenses to generic drugmakers for 10 years in return for a small royalty on sales.

Altogether, the around 85 countries, with a total population of around 2 billion, stand to benefit from the scheme, with Africa seeing the most rewards, GSK said. Any of the company’s products on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines will be automatically included, the CEO told international media ahead of a conference in New York.

The move, which Witty said goes beyond those offered by GSK’s competitors, comes amid criticism of excessive prices for prescription drugs and, observers noted, is expected to be viewed as an attempt by the executive to seal his legacy. According to British news reports, under his leadership, the company has cut the prices of drugs for HIV and other essential medicines in developing countries.

Witty told media that GSK also plans to commit its future cancer therapies to the Medicines Patent Pool, a UN-backed initiative. Here, drugmakers have been granting licenses to generics producers in developing countries to manufacture cheaper treatments for HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis.

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