Licence to aid

Aspen gets power from GSK to produce anti-AIDS drugs

Published: Thursday 15 November 2001

to defuse the continuing row over drug access to aids-patients, uk-based GlaxoSmithKiline (gsk) has given a voluntary licence to South Africa based generic drug manufacturers, Aspen Pharmacare. Aspen will now manufacture cheaper versions of zidovudine (Retrovir-azt), lamivudine (Epivir-3 tc) and the zidovudine and lamivudine combination (Combivir).

Aspen will produce the drugs at a no-profit basis and the drugs cannot be exported out of the country. In return for the licence, the generic drug manufacturer does not have to give a royalty to the patent holders. Instead, it has agreed to give 30 per cent of its net profit to non governmental organizations in South Africa. Stephen Saad, Group ceo of Aspen Pharmacare says, "It is a privilege to have received these voluntary licences through which we would now be able to offer to the government more affordable anti-retrovirals for the South African population."

This licence has further increased the hold of Aspen over the market as it already has similar licence from Bristol-Myers Squibb (didanosine and stavudine). But the success of the scheme will hinge on the response of the government -- in particular, whether or not the health ministry decides to offer up a state tender for Aspen's generic product. Even though the South African government is clearly in favour of generics, only 20 per cent of the drugs in the country are generic.

Earlier, multinational drug companies, such as gsk, were not amenable to the production of generic drugs. A group of 38 pharmaceutical companies had filed cases against the South African government when they had tried to produce generic drugs themselves or tried to import them from countries like India. The case against South Africa was dropped in April this year and now multinational companies are changing tune and expressing their commitment to play a full and responsible part in the search for sustainable approaches to the healthcare challenges of the developing world. But is this concern real?

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