AIDS Healthcare Foundation targets GSK over voluntary licensing of its AIDS drug patents in South Africa

At the international AIDS conference in Bangkok, AIDS Healthcare Foundation hosted a peaceful protest against British multinational pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline over its voluntary licensing of its AIDS drug patents in South Africa.

GSK, the world's second-largest drug maker and the largest manufacturer of HIV/AIDS drugs currently controls over 40 percent of the worldwide market for HIV/AIDS drugs.

“On October 8, 2001 – more than two & a half years ago – GSK granted its first ever voluntary license to Aspen Pharmacare in South Africa to make generic GSK ARVs,” said Michael Weinstein, AIDS Healthcare Foundation President. “Since then, not one pill has been produced in the only place on the planet that GSK has granted such voluntary licenses. GSK: your voluntary licensing is a scam.”

In a related development, GlaxoSmithKline announced on July 1st – one week before the opening of this year’s AIDS conference – that it has also now issued a voluntary license to South Africa's Thembalami Pharmaceuticals to produce generic versions of two of GSK's antiretroviral drugs, Reuters reports (Reuters, 6/29). Under the agreement, Thembalami – which is a joint venture between Adcock Ingram and India's Ranbaxy Laboratories -- will be allowed to produce generic versions of lamivudine and zidovudine, as well as a pill that combines the two drugs, South Africa's Business Day reports (Kahn, Business Day, 6/30).

“In a headline and in a press release, Glaxo’s voluntary licensing of the patents for its AIDS drugs looks good,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “Unfortunately, that’s all these agreement seems to be – a headline and a press release. We have several questions on Glaxo’s voluntary licensing agreement: Why is it taking so long to produce any of these drugs? This first agreement was signed more than two years ago, and why may Aspen only sell the drugs to the South African government? We are protesting today to ask GSK for answers and action on these questions.”

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