Glaxosmithkline’s decision to stop filing patents in poor countries around the world has come as a blessing for the developing world for it will now have access to more generic versions of drugs that are in the affordable bracket and do not face the threat of legal action. An ailing population of over 85 countries is likely to get affected by the company’s decision. Countries like Rwanda, Afghanistan and Haiti being some among them.
Another boon that comes with the GSK announcement is that there would be a larger number of cancer medications available in the market which would fall into the affordable range and which were scarce in the face of HIV and Hepatitis treatments that fell in the generic category.
Pharmaceutical companies have maintained a monopoly on drugs they manufacture by relying upon patents in the past, thereby enjoying the freedom of fixing prices.
Glaxosmithkline’s decision to abstain from patent manufacture is being looked at differently in different parts of the world. Many are desirous of wanting other companies to follow suit. Danny Edwards, a policy researcher at the Access to Medicine Foundation expressing an opinion said, “Hopefully by showing this kind of activity can happen, and that it supports public health, it will encourage other companies to also take responsibility for this sort of clarity.” Sir Andrew Witty, the Chief Executive Officer of GSK told the rfi that he hoped the company’s decision would stand to benefit the African continent.
Scepticism prevails among some pharma and medical industry people about GSK withdrawing patent assist from the developing world. Rohit Malpani, the policy director for the Access Campaign at Doctors Without Borders made an important point by bringing to light the fact that under a World Trade Organisation agreement, the world’s 48 poorest countries have already been exempt from patent protections until 2033. He also noted that it was unclear how South Africa, Brazil, India and China, who fall in the lower and middle income category countries would benefit from GSK decision.
Knowing that a number of the very poor countries are also part of the Group of 20 industrial and developing nations, and having some of the largest drug manufacturing facilities Mr. Malpani added, “One of the main concerns we have from the announcement is that GSK indicated that it would continue to seek patent protection from G20 countries.” Expressing a different point of view, Dr. Raymond Hill, President of the British Pharmacological Society and visiting professor at Imperial College in London said he feels the move from GSK is “overall a good thing,” but, only one part of a solution to the larger problem of lack of infrastructure in the world’s poorest nations.“If you have potent new drugs that’s good, but they can only be used safely and effectively if you have the physicians who are trained to use them and you have the medical infrastructure in place to use them,” said Hill.
GSK has also made it implicitly clear that it will offer licences to generic drug makers in lower to upper middle income countries for 10 years, in return for a small royalty.