GlaxoSmithKline in Major Reversal on Drugs

This is big news. Not sure about the motivations or strategy, but it may have a huge effect on the pharmaceutical industry. From today’s Guardian. Here’s an essential point:

The move on intellectual property, until now regarded as the sacred cow of the pharmaceutical industry, will be seen as the most radical of his proposals. “I think it’s the first time anybody’s really come out and said we’re prepared to start talking to people about pooling our patents to try to facilitate innovation in areas where, so far, there hasn’t been much progress,” he said.

Drug giant GlaxoSmithKline pledges cheap medicine for world’s poor

Head of GSK shocks industry with challenge to other ‘big pharma’ companies

Sarah Boseley, health editor, Friday 13 February 2009 21.44 GMT

The world’s second biggest pharmaceutical company is to radically shift its attitude to providing cheap drugs to millions of people in the developing world.

In a major change of strategy, the new head of GlaxoSmithKline, Andrew Witty, has told the Guardian he will slash prices on all medicines in the poorest countries, give back profits to be spent on hospitals and clinics and–most ground-breaking of all–share knowledge about potential drugs that are currently protected by patents.

Witty says he believes drug companies have an obligation to help the poor get treatment. He challenges other pharmaceutical giants to follow his lead.

Pressure on the industry has been growing over the past decade, triggered by the Aids catastrophe.

Drug companies have been repeatedly criticised for failing to drop their prices for HIV drugs while millions died in Africa and Asia. Since then, campaigners have targeted them for defending the patents, which keep their prices high, while attempting to crush competition from generic manufacturers, who undercut them dramatically in countries where patents do not apply.

The reputation of the industry suffered a further damaging blow with the publication and film of John le Carre’s book The Constant Gardener, which depicted drug companies as uncaring and corrupt.

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