Being a successful pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is used to saving lives. The problem is the millions of people who suffer from the conditions such as diabetes, AIDS and asthma that its drugs treat live in rich developed countries that can afford their treatments. Now the drugs giant is looking to save lives in poorer countries as well as rich ones. Like all drug companies, GSK spends billions on researching and developing drugs. To make a return on those billions, drug companies like Glaxo file for patents so that no one can copy their magic formulae and sell drugs on the cheap. That works fine in developed countries where generous national health services and insurance subsidise the cost of the drugs, but not so good in developing countries where prices are so prohibitive and the medical infrastructure inadequate that access to life saving treatments is limited.
To redress the balance, GSK has announced plans to level the playing field: it will not file for patents in developing nations which will increase the public’s access to the treatments by allowing other companies to manufacture and sell drugs in these poorer countries. As CEO Sir Andrew Witty explains, Glaxo is to take a ‘graduated’ approach to its intellectual property: patents will not be filed in 50 countries which have a combined population of approximately 1 billion; in lower to middle income countries, it will continue to file for patents but will grant licences to other manufacturers in return for a small royalty; while it would continue to seek full patent protection in richer nations. Sir Andrew added, “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.” Experts have given the move a big thumbs up. Prof Alan Boyd from the Royal Colleges of Physicians said, “Access to medicines for patients on a global basis is vital and it is good to see an innovative approach like this to ensure this happens.” GlaxoSmithKline, the Daily Cheer salutes you.