Glaxo waives Aids rights in S Africa

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The Independent Online

GlaxoSmithKline has handed the rights to its market-leading Aids medicines in South Africa to a local generic drug company, in an attempt to defuse a continuing row over access to treatment.

The move followed a humiliating climbdown by GSK and other major pharmaceutical companies in April, when they abandoned a high-profile court case in South Africa, which sought to stop the import of cheaper drugs.

GlaxoSmithKline said that as part of its global "commitment to improving access to safe and effective medicines in the developing world", it had licensed three Aids medicines, including AZT, to Aspen Pharmacare. GSK has waived the royalty payments it would ordinarily be due, as has Shire Pharmaceuticals, another British company, which holds the patent to one of these anti-retroviral drugs.

Under an innovative agreement, Aspen will instead pay a 30 per cent fee on its sales to non-government organisations, which will use this money in more broadly based work to fight HIV/Aids, such as education programmes.

Howard Pien, president of pharmaceuticals international at GSK, said: "We are committed to playing a full and responsible part in the search for sustainable approaches to the healthcare challenges of the developing world. Through this partnership, we seek to make a meaningful contribution to the fight against the HIV/Aids epidemic in South Africa."

However, the Aids drugs will still be out of the reach of most poor South Africans, retailing at between $0.60 (£0.40) and $1.80 (£1.20) a patient a day. South African government funding, as well as international financing, will be needed to make these drugs affordable. But the attitude of President Thabo Mbeki's government remains unclear.

GSK will continue to sell its Aids medicines in South Africa, in competition with the new generic versions. Glaxo dropped its prices following the bad publicity that the April court case attracted.

The global market for Aids drugs, which is dominated by GSK, is estimated at around $4bn (£2.7bn) a year. Adding in associated infections takes the total nearer $10bn (£6.7bn).