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Glaxo pledges to skip drug patent process in poor nations

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GlaxoSmithKline Plc will refrain from seeking patent protection for its products in the world's poorest countries, one of several steps to make all its medicines more widely available from Afghanistan to Haiti.

[LONDON] GlaxoSmithKline Plc will refrain from seeking patent protection for its products in the world's poorest countries, one of several steps to make all its medicines more widely available from Afghanistan to Haiti.

The new strategy applies to drugs from respiratory treatments to cancer therapies, making Glaxo the first major drugmaker to relax its patent policy for all products.

The UK's biggest pharmaceutical company also pledged to pursue partnerships with generic-drug makers to make low-cost versions of Glaxo products accessible in lower middle-income nations, the company said in an e-mailed statement Thursday.

"We'll create a simple-to-access, one-stop point of information so people can see exactly where our patents are," Glaxo Chief Executive Officer Andrew Witty told reporters on a conference call.

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"That's a good commitment towards transparency, and that will help speed generics."

Rising demand for the newest life-saving medicines in developing countries has led nations including India, Thailand and Brazil to issue compulsory licenses, enabling local production without the patent holder's consent.

Gilead Sciences Inc, Glaxo's rival in HIV drugs, has been cutting deals with generic-drug makers that give it a small share of sales in poor countries and win the goodwill of governments.

Gilead has licensed rights to make copies of its medicines to generic-drug makers in India, South Africa and China, including licenses to 11 drugmakers in India for its blockbuster hepatitis C treatment Sovaldi, and agreements with 19 companies to produce and sell versions of the company's HIV and hepatitis B therapies.

London-based Glaxo won't apply for patents in 50 of the world's poorest and least developed countries, including much of sub-Saharan Africa, Cambodia and Bangladesh. These nations are home to about 1 billion people.

"One of the challenges is that many of the countries that are included are not manufacturing drugs," said Rohit Malpani, director of policy and analysis for the access campaign at Doctors Without Borders in Paris.

The company generally will apply for patents for its medicines in lower middle-income countries, and then offer generic-drug makers licenses for 10 years and will seek royalties on sales, it said in the statement.

In high-income, upper middle-income and G20 nations, which include India, China and Brazil, Glaxo will continue to seek patent protection for its drugs. Indian manufacturers supply a majority of the world's low-cost medicines.

Glaxo said it would commit to making generic versions of its future cancer treatments available through the Medicines Patent Pool, a United Nations-backed initiative set up to facilitate licensing of therapies for HIV, hepatitis C and cancer in low-income and middle-income countries.

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