GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) recently announced in a press release that it would be expanding its graduated approach to patents and intellectual property to widen access to medicines in the world’s poorest countries.

GSK have said that they won’t file patents in Least Developed or Low Income Countries and for lower-middle income countries they will grant 10 year licenses so those countries can access generic affordable versions of their medicines.

The Missing Medicines campaign commends GSK for being open about the fact that patents leads to access issues and for improving transparency. STOPAIDS are also encouraged by the news that GSK are negotiating with the Medicines Patent Pool over licensing for cancer drugs which have a huge price tag the world over.

From this announcement it would seem that the mounting pressure from international bodies such as the UN (that recently launched a High Level Panel on Access to Medicines) and campaigns – including  #MissingMedicines campaign – is beginning to pay off. However we still have many questions and concerns about the state of our profit-driven model for developing drugs.

Firstly, patents aren’t the big issue in LDCs and LICs. LDCs do not have to abide by TRIPS and most companies have existing tiered pricing initiatives for LICs anyway – so we’re unsure what new benefits GSK’s actions will have. Patents are an issue however in upper middle income and high income countries.  In some middle income countries new ARV’s still cost over $10,000 per person per year and even here in the UK, the NHS can’t give everyone access to new Hep C treatment because of the cost (around £70,000 per person per course). But GSK says it will continue to patent it’s medicines in these countries meaning prices will remain unaffordable.

Furthermore, we ‘re not sure of the licensing agreements for L-MIC’s to get access to generics. Currently this is only for 10 years AND we don’t know if countries outside the L-MIC bracket would be allowed to get access to these generics.

GSK have said they will improve transparency around where they hold patents to allow generic companies to produce version of their medicines in developing countries but it would be even better if GSK could be transparent about their R&D costs. R&D is shrouded in secrecy but consumers have a right to know what they are paying for.

The Missing Medicines campaign are pleased with the leadership GSK is taking and particularly Andrew Witty, who is about to leave the company. We hope his successor is committed to ensuring that GSK can further improve access to their medicines and to use their influence in the sector to put pressure on other companies to follow in their footsteps.

HOWEVER, GSK are just one company and these benefits they describe don’t include everyone. The issues with patent-based monopolies, high prices and skewed priorities remain and will continue to cause unnecessary suffering  until we reform our R&D model. We will continue to fight for systemic change and for the creation of a medical R&D system that puts patients before profits