Andrew Witty, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), raised eyebrows last month by announcing that GSK will make its medicines available to low income countries at a quarter of the usual price and invest 20 per cent of its developing country profits back into local healthcare infrastructure (see Glaxo patent rethink sparks debate).
But does this reflect a real drive to improve health for people in developing countries, asks an editorial in The Lancet.
Someone will still have to pay for the cheaper medicines — and GSK prices are unlikely to match generic drug prices, says the editorial. And while 20 per cent of developing country profits sounds high, it represents less than 0.1 per cent of GSK's overall profits.
More interesting is Witty's idea of a patent pool to boost research into neglected diseases. But how it will be planned, pursued or even paid for remains to be seen, says the editorial. And GSK is not planning to share its HIV patents — despite the need for new paediatric and combination antiretroviral drugs.
The editorial calls for broader action and close scrutiny of efforts. Meanwhile, as an immediate test of GSK's resolve, Witty could make GSK's licensed human papillomavirus vaccine affordable and deliverable.
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