GlaxoSmithKline's recent announcement that it plans to reduce drug prices in some low-income countries and share information on patented drugs is "welcome" but not a "radical departure from standard fare," Tido von Schoen-Angerer -- director of Medecins Sans Frontieres' Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines -- writes in an opinion piece in London's Guardian. According to von Schoen-Angerer, GSK should employ the "tried and tested way to drive prices down -- competition with multiple generic manufacturers, thanks to which the first generation of AIDS treatments has seen a price drop of close to 99% in the past decade."
According to von Schoen-Angerer, the "price-cut pledge is restricted to 'the 50 least developed countries,' excluding those nations where burgeoning middle classes live side by side with millions who cannot afford medicines." He adds that this situation -- such as the one occurring in China, where GSK's patent "allows the company to charge prohibitive costs for the AIDS drug lamivudine" -- is "not one that can be wished away: as patients across the world start to develop resistance to existing drugs, they will need access to newer, more expensive medicines. The price of AIDS treatment is set to skyrocket."
Von Schoen-Angerer continues that he welcomes GSK's "attempts to encourage research through a 'patent pool' for neglected diseases" but that a "pool should not be restricted to so few diseases, and we need concrete changes to boost innovation and access for HIV/AIDS too. Such a scheme is already being established by the international drugs agency UNITAID." According to von Schoen-Angerer, GSK CEO Andrew Witty's claims that there is "sufficient innovation for AIDS drugs" is "wrong," adding that more heat-stable drugs are needed, in addition to new fixed-dose combination drugs and child-friendly combinations. He concludes, "Patent barriers can stop this innovation [from] happening -- until GSK pools its rights on lamivudine, patients in China can't benefit from the three-in-one pills that have revolutionized treatment elsewhere. For GSK to back the UNITAID patent pool would be the 'radical' shift to address innovation and access problems -- not Witty's proposals for price discounts" (von Schoen-Angerer, Guardian, 2/24).
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