Health news round-up (Issue 93)

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Health news round-up (Issue 93)

May 21, 2007

GSK leading the way?

Europe’s largest pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, has begun the registration process for a vaccine that it does not expect to ever raise a profit from.

Globorix is being developed to fight meningitis types A and C in Africa, and will be distributed at a cost that is not expected to cover the drug’s research and development overheads.

Contact 020 8047 5000 www.gsk.com

Briefing comment

The challenges facing pharmaceutical companies are enormous – access to medicines, sales and marketing practices, pricing and licensing, clinical trials, animal testing and so on. This short collection of news items shows how a few leading companies are responding to some of these issues.

Perhaps the most striking example is GSK moving to register a drug for sale in markets where it knows it is unlikely to recover its R&D costs. How often do we hear of a company deliberately pursuing a business strategy that is not profit-driven? This move would appear to be an significant milestone on the CSR journey. For how much longer will companies in other sectors be immune from this type of pressure that has the potential to strike at the core of the business model?

Counterfeit drugs

The World Health Organisation has called for immediate action from the world’s governments and major pharmaceuticals to combat the sale of counterfeit medication. It is estimated that in some developing countries, between 50-90% of drugs on the market are fakes, meaning that it is always the poorest and most ill people who are affected by ineffective drugs.

“People die from taking counterfeit medicine,” says Howard Zucker, assistant director general for health technology and pharmaceuticals at the WHO. He added that “countries should think about ways to make the necessary technological, legislative and financial adjustments as quickly as possible to guarantee the availability of quality assured essential drugs”.

It is estimated that 200,000 of the one million malaria deaths every year would be prevented if all the drugs taken were genuine.

Contact WHO 0041 22 791 2111 www.who.int

Cheap aids drugs for sub-saharan Africa

Tibotec Pharmaceuticals has signed a royalty-free, non-exclusive license agreement with the AspenGroup – a pharmaceutical company in South Africa – that will allow Aspen to distribute an antiretroviral protease inhibitor called Prezista cheaply in sub-Saharan Africa. The drug has been approved in the US and Europe, and is being fast tracked for approval in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. Seventeen other African countries are also expected to be approved. The drug is expected to reach between 30,000 and 40,000 HIV-positive people in Africa by 2011.

Contact Tibotec 0032 1 529 3100 www.tibotec.com; Aspen 0027 11 239 6734 www.aspenpharma.com

Access to drugs improving

More people are receiving treatment for HIV/Aids in developing countries and this is partly due to a drop in the cost of drugs according to the World Health Organisation.

Towards Universal Access: Scaling Up Priority HIV/AIDS Interventions in the Health Sector found that by December 2006, 2m people in low- and middle-income countries were receiving treatment for the disease – this is a 54% increase from a year earlier. Also, the prices of first-line ARV drugs had decreased by between 37 and 53% in these countries between 2003 and 2006. The findings were released on April 17 by the WHO in partnership with the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS and UNICEF.

Contact WHO 0041 22 791 2111 www.who.int

Cutting prices

Abbott Laboratories have announced that they are slashing the price of their key AIDS medicines in more than 40 poor countries. The agreement was reached with the WHO following Abbott Laboratories’ strained relations at the end of March with the Thai government over the availability of antiretroviral drugs in Thailand.

While some see this as a massive victory, others remain sceptical of whether such a huge promise will actually be fulfilled. When talking to Reuters news agency, Dr. Buddhima Lokuge of Médicins Sans Frontières warned that promises made as a result of pressure from civil society and other groups, rarely translate to real results. Other reports show that these worries may be well-founded. Although Abbott is making the ARV drug, Kaltera, cheaper in many countries, Reuters reports that they are still refusing to register the new heat-stable version of the drug, which does not require refrigerating, in Thailand.

Campaign group, People & Planet, has commented that the Thai government are still considering refusing the offer of reduced-priced drugs, in order to create a market of generic copies that will eventually push the price of essential drugs down further.

Contact Abbott Laboratories 01628 773 355 www.abbottuk.com; Médicins Sans Frontières 0041 22 849 8400 www.msf.org; People & Planet 01865 245 678 www.peopleandplanet.org

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