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Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Limited  
Sunday Times (London)
April 22, 2001, Sunday
SECTION: Business
Paul Durman

Drugs boss calls for Marshall plan to end Aids crisis

TACKLING the Aids crisis requires a Marshall plan for Africa, the chief executive of Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK), Britain's leading drugs maker, said this weekend.

Jean-Pierre Garnier said the wealthy G7 nations should provide funding to buy medicines through an existing and proven agency, such as the United Nations Aids programme. In Britain, Gordon Brown, the chancellor, has led attempts to establish a new global fund that will buy treatments for Aids and malaria.

The Marshall plan was the American-led scheme that tackled Europe's widespread hunger, unemployment and housing shortages after the second world war.

The newly merged GSK, a leading producer of Aids therapies, has effectively accepted that it can no longer profit from selling medicines at western prices to impoverished nations hit by the Aids epidemic.

GSK has borne much of the attack on the industry's role in denying medicines to dying patients. Stunned by damaging publicity, 38 pharmaceutical companies last week abandoned their challenge to a South African law that sought to provide access to cheaper drugs.

The sustained campaign against the industry forced GSK and other companies to slash their prices.

Garnier said providing Aids and HIV sufferers with access to effective treatments has "nothing to do with the patents issue" that was at the centre of the South African court case. Even when supplied at cost, at about $ 700 (Pounds 485) a year, western therapies remain too expensive for South Africa and other African countries that are struggling to cope with millions of Aids sufferers.

What is needed, Garnier said, is a partnership between the developed nations and bodies such as the World Health Organisation and the United Nations to provide the necessary financial help. Jeffrey Sachs, director of Harvard's Center for International Development, recently estimated that it could cost $ 7billion a year to treat the 25m HIV-infected people in sub-Saharan Africa.

This is a far greater cost than the $ 400m a year that Unicef spends each year on providing vaccines and other help to children. However, Garnier suggests this is a proven model that could be adapted for Aids.

Although cast as a villain by activists, Garnier has made the access issue one of his priorities. He said: "We cannot continue to discover more medicines and not make them available to more people."

Garnier said the pharmaceutical industry needed to change its "business model". This will clearly involve offering cut-price drugs to poorer nations.

He urged the industry not to duck out of the limelight now that the pressure from the South African case has eased. He said: "This is no time for the industry to desert its seat in the orchestra."

Yusuf Hamied, the chairman of Cipla Pharmaceuticals who has offered to supply a cocktail of Aids drugs for as little as $ 350 a year, said governments should be free to compulsorily license patented products to tackle their own medical emergencies.

He pointed out that GSK was embroiled in scores of legal actions with companies wanting to produce cheap generic versions of Paxil/Seroxat, the group's big-selling anti-depressant. "You are spending 10% of your R&D budget on research and 90% on maintaining your monopoly," said Hamied.



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Copyright 2001 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
Last revised 4/2/2001