GlaxoSmithKline Pledges $97M Investment In AIDS Drugs For Africa, Allows South African Drugmaker To Produce Generic Second-Line Treatment

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) on Tuesday announced plans to invest $97 million over 10 years “to improve research, development and access to AIDS drugs in Africa,” Reuters reports.  GSK also put forth “a new free voluntary licensing agreement for AIDS drug abacavir, or Ziagen with South African generic drugmaker Aspen Pharmacare.” According to Reuters, Aspen will be able to “manufacture a cheaper generic version of the drug.”

GSK’s “latest steps…follow pressure from campaigners and some governments for drug companies to do more to get life-saving medicines to the poor, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa,” Reuters writes. “Glaxo took a lead in February by promising to place many of its patents on drugs for tropical diseases into a free ‘pool,’ but it stopped short of offering patents on medicines for HIV/AIDS, which it does not consider to be a neglected disease” (Hirschler, 7/14).

“The plans follow GSK’s historic deal in April with rival Pfizer to create a new HIV and AIDS company with 11 products,” the Telegraph reports. The announcement is an “indication of the commitment that the new company will bring to fighting HIV/AIDS in the world’s poorest countries,” GSK’s chief executive Andrew Witty said during a trip to Kenya (Ruddick, 7/14).

Abacavir is “a ‘second line’ antiretroviral therapy used when patients fail to respond to” standard treatment, the Financial Times reports. “The new pledges for the first time expand the waiver on rights to abacavir, and [Witty] stressed they also applied to supplies to low-income countries outside Africa provided the generic manufacturers could meet the criteria of ‘quality, capacity and sustainability’,” the Financial Times writes. The newspaper reports that Witty does not support a patent pool for HIV drugs, and “[h]e said GSK had ‘a good track record’ of making its medicines affordable in [middle income] countries through discounts” (Jack, 7/15).

“While welcoming the initiatives, [British members of Parliament] and campaigners said GSK, and other pharmaceutical companies, must do more,” the Guardian reports. “David Borrow, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on AIDS, said: ‘GSK is taking positive steps, but they are broadly unilateral, which will limit their impact.’…’The most effective way to reduce prices would be a patent pool approach, rather than individual deals between companies.” A report released by Borrow’s group, titled, “The Treatment Timebomb,” estimates that by 2030 more than 50 million people will need HIV treatment compared to just 9 million today (Kollewe, 7/14).

Barrow said in a separate Guardian article, “We must reduce the price of second-line medicines and less toxic first-line medicines before millions need them. We cannot sleepwalk into a situation where we can only afford to treat a tiny proportion of those infected” (Boseley, 7/12).

GSK’s pledge of $97 million will be put toward non-governmental organizations that work to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and public-private partnerships for the development of pediatric HIV/AIDS drugs (GSK release, 7/14).

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