Developing drugs for the developing world
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Drug companies guard their business jealously as creating a new medicine is an expensive and lengthy business.
A new drug can cost up to $350 million and takes 10 to 12 years to produce, according to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).
Once a drug is produced, patenting means it cannot be copied for up to 20 years, thus safeguarding the company's investment in creating the medicine.
However, charities and public health bodies want the pharmaceutical industry to reassess its patent policies and pricing structures in developing countries.
A spokesman for the ABPI told CNN that it was imperative to protect such investments.
He said 20 years was not that long when the time taken to research, test and produce the medicine was taken into account.
"This effectively means that firms have only eight years to recoup costs and make profits with which to produce the next generation of the drugs," he said.
The ABPI also points out that only one in seven new, licensed medicines becomes a commercial success.
Allegations by some charities that the industry is keeping lifesaving medicines beyond the reach of people in poor countries are categorically denied.
"The problem is effectively one of world poverty and it is right that the pharmaceutical industry should play its part in helping to alleviate the situation.
"However, the industry cannot be expected to shoulder all the responsibility. We cannot be a national health service to the world," he added.
Instead, the industry believes multilateral funding is needed, with public-private co-operation at both national and international level.
The ABPI has welcomed initiatives like a global fund proposed by the UK Government. British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown wants an international purchase fund for medicines and vaccines. However, the ABPI warned that such schemes would take time to develop and would not mean medicines tomorrow.
Leading companies like GlaxoSmithKline expressed their enthusiasm for the scheme and for a parallel plan to introduce tax incentives for research on developing world diseases. Chief Executive Officer Jean-Pierre Garnier said: "Tax credits for research will allow GlaxoSmithKline to allocate resources to more new projects.
"In particular, this initiative could go a long way to pushing forward further research and development into vaccines for those infectious diseases that cause millions of deaths each year."
The company says it is committed to getting affordable medicines to poor people. It has promised to improve access to discounted HIV/AIDS drugs in under-developed countries by supplying medicines to non-profit-making organisations.
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