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Drug Giant Pledges Cheap Medicine For World's Poor 317

Posted by kdawson
from the shamed-into-it dept.
bmsleight writes in with a Guardian piece on the decision of the world's second biggest pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, to radically shift its attitude towards providing cheap drugs to millions of people in the developing world. "[The new CEO] said that GSK will... cut its prices for all drugs in the 50 least developed countries to no more than 25% of the levels in the UK and US — and less if possible — and make drugs more affordable in middle-income countries such as Brazil and India; put any chemicals or processes over which it has intellectual property rights that are relevant to finding drugs for neglected diseases into a 'patent pool,' so they can be explored by other researchers; and reinvest 20% of any profits it makes in the least developed countries in hospitals, clinics, and staff."
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Drug Giant Pledges Cheap Medicine For World's Poor

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  • by wisty (1335733) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:17AM (#26871291)

    It's not generous, it's just good sales. Maybe greed is good though.

  • by Guspaz (556486) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:24AM (#26871321)

    Aren't drugs already like 50% in Canada? So wouldn't a more meaningful gesture be to sell drugs for 25% of the price in Canada?

    Three-quarters-off a $200 prescription is still $50. Not something that people living on a dollar or two a day can afford.

  • by easyTree (1042254) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:25AM (#26871331)

    Social prejudice is this year's racial prejudice.

    Let ppl make a ham-fisted attempt at atoning for past abuses will ya?, jeez ;-)

  • by east coast (590680) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:34AM (#26871391)
    It's funny how if people complain about problems with the latest ATI video card being 600 dollars we hear the peanut gallery mock about early adopters but when people complain about the same thing involving drugs we hear that it's nothing but greed on the manufacturers part.

    Drugs cost a ton to do R&D on. Let's be at least a little sympathetic to the plight of manufacturers trying to gain back their costs involved in bringing you the latest cures.
  • by MadMidnightBomber (894759) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:37AM (#26871405)

    Well, in the UK we have evil socialised medicine, so we don't have to pay the full cost of our medically necessary drugs. (There is a small, flat charge per prescription)

  • News just in... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:40AM (#26871423)

    Giant spider promises free parking for flies !

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:42AM (#26871441) Homepage

    Also, since we're talking about drugs here, the phrase "first hit is free" comes readily to mind.

    Another factor here is that drug companies want Latin America in particular to develop medical systems dependent on their drugs, rather than trying to replicate the Cuban model which doesn't rely on US drug companies and still manages to get pretty good results. It's sort of like what Intel and MS did to the OLPC project.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:44AM (#26871453)
    Medicine isn't some impulse buy of a newfangled gadget. People live and die by their ability to acquire it.
  • by jellie (949898) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:00AM (#26871583)

    Yes, R&D costs are very high. But a significant portion of the research is sponsored by governments, not necessarily by drug manufacturers. Plus, it's hard to be sympathetic when drug manufacturers spend more money on marketing than on R&D. They also have one of the largest profit margins.

    It's a little unfair to be comparing the costs of drugs and of graphics cards. One is possibly a matter of life and death. And, in an economy in which every major industry is suffering, healthcare costs continue to rise.

  • by agoliveira (188870) <adilson@adils[ ]net ['on.' in gap]> on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:01AM (#26871589)

    Of course they are not doing it from the kindness of their hearts. It's a matter of damage control. A country (any country) can break the patents and start producing any drug in case of need if a commercial arrangement can't be reached with the patent holder so, if they don't provide cheaper drugs, they will lose the whole deal.

  • by ir (104) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:01AM (#26871595)

    No, everyone else has to pay for your shitty health habits through taxation.

  • TOTAL BS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:03AM (#26871605) Journal
    The reason it is so high in places like China and India is because they have their money FIXED against ours and designed to pull the jobs away from the west. That causes high import prices. NOW, by lowering the price ARTIFICIALLY, and most likely moving the manufacturing lines to these countries, they kill their own future as well as those of us who did the RD in the first place. The fact that companies would do this is abhorrent. Now, we need to be allowed to re-import these drugs BACK to the west at the MUCH LOWER costs and kill these companies profits.
  • by db32 (862117) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:05AM (#26871621) Journal
    Yeah! This is only possible because Starbucks has been lowering its coffee prices. The 40-60% they spend on marketing has dropped significantly since the truckloads of crap they buy docs has gotten cheaper in the failing economy. I will be a little sympathetic when their research costs more than the bribery they engage in. I will be a little sympathetic when they quit "modifying" drugs to get an extra 2% effectiveness on some minimal behavior of a drug to get a new patent for it so they can charge exhorbant prices over the previous version that can now be made in generic form for pennies. I will be a little sympathetic when they quit buying political figures to push for mandatory vaccinations of school girls at $360 a pop when even one of they key researches of the vaccine says it is not meant for girls that young and could actually be harmful.

    I mean seriously...let's all feel sorry for the serial killer that has to dig yet another hole...digging holes is hard work after all. Right now these companies are facing big problems in these countries because those governments are invalidating their patents right now. These companies want so much money that the peopel cannot afford that the people's governments have said "Fuck off, we will make our own generics". I suspect this "generous" price drop has more to do with putting political/economic pressure on these countries to enforce patents than it does some generous streak.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:11AM (#26871669)

    Of course it's much better to pay twice as much for private healthcare, then die anyway because your uninsured neighbour infects you with a nasty disease they left untreated. Or the uninsured bus driver with the untreated dodgy knee wipes out your car.
    News: You pay for other people's ill health one way or another. If they're too ill to work, they're not paying taxes - so you're paying more.

    Still, no point in trying to explain civilization to retards eh?

  • by Ginger Unicorn (952287) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:11AM (#26871673)
    yeah, along with all those people born with or stricken down with ailments over which they have no control are just parasitic scum that should be left to die in a ditch lest they put too much of a strain on the taxpayer.
  • the first tablet (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spectrokid (660550) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:17AM (#26871743) Homepage
    Remember that in pharma, the first tablet you press costs a gazillion dollar, the second one 1 cent. If you are in a country where you can ten-double sales by slashing 75% of the price, it is still a smart move.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:18AM (#26871759)

    And we pillory it?

    It may well end up increasing GSK's bottom line, but it will also bring needed drugs at reduced prices to people who may not otherwise be able to acquire them.

    Also in the current climate of corporate idiocy isn't it rather refreshing to see a major corporation do something very smart and provide social benefits at the same time?

    No you guys are right, let's stick it to 'em!

  • by penix1 (722987) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:19AM (#26871763) Homepage

    That would be all well and good but they aren't atoning for shit here. Let me count the ways for you:

    1. Richer countries like the US and UK are subsidizing this drug program. You don't honestly think GSK is going to give up its profits now do you...

    2. They are putting some of their patents in a "patent pool", whatever that means, instead of doing the real "right thing" and releasing those patents to the public domain. Torpedo patents anyone...

    3. This isn't an attempt to "do good" more than it is an attempt to stop countries from ignoring their patents and developing generics on their own. A little profit is better than no profit in their eyes. Besides, as 1 above suggests, they will make it up off the richer countries.

    This is a multi-billion dollar a year industry we are talking about here. They have no conscience and no morals. Profit is their only motivator. No company does anything out of the goodness of their heart unless it will lead to greater profits and/or market dominance. This is doubly so with the drug industry.

  • by confused one (671304) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:28AM (#26871875)

    While one might like to think they're purpose is wholly based on charity, it's not that simple. Look, They have to offer the drugs at a lower price in third world economies if they want to sell them there. Also, selling drugs cheap in developing countries has been shown to provide long term returns for the companies (once the economy of the developing country grows into a functional first world economy, the drug manufacturer will already have a foot-hold).

    And it's easy enough to meet their price of 25% of US and UK prices statement, by setting the US and UK price high enough.

    I'm not being cynical. I'm being a realist who's read some history.

  • by macraig (621737) <`mark.a.craig' `at' `gmail.com'> on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:30AM (#26871889)

    It's a close cousin to the ever-popular "going green" announcements and product releases. My current favorite for that B.S. is Johnson&Johnson, "a family [owned] company". Then there's "antibacterial" and antimicrobial products.

    All of this can perhaps be filed under the heading of Deliberate Mis-Education. Big Pharma is... wait for it... LE-GEN-DARY for that, including even mis-educating general practitioners as well as consumers. Big Pharma would like the world to completely forget that virtually all of its products are DERIVATIVE of something already found in nature, and from which there was usually already a NON-PATENTABLE folk remedy that accomplishes much if not all of what their patented derivatives might do.

    Ain't it amazing the vast conspiratorial evil that people can do when they assemble themselves into an upside-down tree with the biggest FUD-makers at the top and everyone else just doing what they're told no-questions-asked?

  • by Nazlfrag (1035012) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:32AM (#26871909) Journal

    I'm not from the UK, there they have a comprehensive national insurance policy. Still, when I look at the USA who tax their citizens at a rate of 2.9% [wikipedia.org] for medical cover that covers only the disabled and elderly (>65), and compare that to the 1.5% [wikipedia.org] we pay here in Australia that gets comprehensive health cover for every citizen, I just cannot comprehend the mentality that a state run hospital service is somehow less necessary to a modern functioning society than a state run fire service or police service. They are all vital to a functional stable society, and it is in the best interests of every citizen to have full coverage for all.

  • by D Ninja (825055) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:34AM (#26871937)

    Why should people who had the dumb luck to be born in some shithole country be blessed with lower-priced medicine?

    This statement boggles my mind.

    Sure, the people born in the war-torn, poverty-ridden, disease-ridden, crime-laden hell hole of a country is getting cheaper medicine. Of course, then they're also dealing with war, heavy poverty, disease and crime.

    What Americans fail to understand is that, even the most poor off and worst person in America is (many times) still doing better than some of "rich" people in other countries.

    Of course, if you want to go live in said countries so you can get cheaper medicine, be my guest. You might learn a thing or two.

  • by crmarvin42 (652893) on Monday February 16, 2009 @09:44AM (#26872027)
    So, their bastards for charging more than people can afford for life saving medicine that now only costs cents to manufacture (having already spent the millions on R&D), but they are also bastards when they reduce the cost, because they'll get everyone hooked on their drugs.

    This strikes me as a Win/Win type situation for BlackHat conspiracy folks.
  • by plasmacutter (901737) on Monday February 16, 2009 @10:13AM (#26872381)

    It's funny how if people complain about problems with the latest ATI video card being 600 dollars we hear the peanut gallery mock about early adopters but when people complain about the same thing involving drugs we hear that it's nothing but greed on the manufacturers part.

    You don't suffer in horrible agony, become debilitated and lose your job, family, or sanity, or die when you don't get a video card.

    Additionally, most R&D today is done in federally funded universities.

    Funny how the anti-socialized medicine crowd are all over it when it comes to helping main street but its perfectly fine to socialize the R&D for these companies, then hand them the patents.

  • by penix1 (722987) on Monday February 16, 2009 @10:52AM (#26872857) Homepage

    And how do they plan to stop 1st world countries from importing drugs from their developing brethren?

    By introducing legislation banning it. How else? You don't think they have paid out those millions in bribes....er...Campaign contributions for nothing do you? You don't think they hired that army of lobbyists for the good of the people do you?

  • by genoese (415161) * on Monday February 16, 2009 @11:03AM (#26873021) Homepage

    Human nature being what it is, this is an excellent opportunity for black market corruption -- drug company sells to developing country. Corrupt elements in developing country sell back to corrupt black marketeers who then resell in 'rich' countries to corrupt vendors for reduced prices and still make huge profits.
    And still the people who need the drugs don't get them, but maybe some actually will, and that's a good thing.

  • by nbates (1049990) on Monday February 16, 2009 @11:39AM (#26873489)

    But... you don't understand...

    If it is against the free market rules, then it is evil, and we must find an oversimplified reason to dismiss it.

    So instead of saying "poor people in rich countries should get simmilar treatment" we say "let those who can't pay die, maybe that will teach them not to be poor"

  • Re:obvious why ... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Assoupis (758320) on Monday February 16, 2009 @12:08PM (#26873961) Homepage
    That is the only reason why they do it: generic medecine spread through africa and south america, and they want to get their market back. This operation is a desperate attempt to make more profit, as they are a corporation, which mean they want to make the most for the shareholders.

    Real compassion would be to drop the patents on aids medecine to help africa, just as the WHO propose (http://www.aegis.com/NEWS/AFP/2001/AF0103B8.html).
  • No company does anything out of the goodness of their heart unless it will lead to greater profits and/or market dominance.

    And that is why your generation sucks balls. We hate you and want you to hurry up and die. The younger generations seem to have a little heart. And yes, I run a company, and yes, we have a heart.

    You run a private company, not a public corporation, yes? Companies owned by individuals/small groups have no problem in the "heart" department.

  • by kid-noodle (669957) <jono@UMLAUTnanosheep.net minus punct> on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:42PM (#26875181) Homepage
    I note the comments are filled with cynicism, sarcasm & general snarking - a not unreasonable approach to any announcement from GSK or any other pharmaceuticals company.

    That said - this is potentially a really fantastic thing. New CEO, new game plan. Also worth noting that GSK is the second biggest pharma company in the world - this has a pretty good probability of forcing other large pharma companies to follow suit and opens the door to more of the same (for example, HIV/AIDS drugs are not covered in the patent pooling - this is still a move in the right direction, it will make subsequent moves along the same lines easier.)

    Patent pooling is something NGOs have been asking big pharma to do for years now. This is a hugely positive move.

    Of course GSK have motives to do this besides doing good, that does not mean doing good is ruled out.

    (And I will now be watching the obits for news of Andrew Witty's untimely demise.)
  • by Marble68 (746305) on Monday February 16, 2009 @02:59PM (#26876205) Homepage
    Score 5 for Interesting as in as interesting as a train wreck. That has to be the most short sighted,ignorant statement I've read on /. in a while. Do you *seriously* think that the rich, who you obviously consider evil, wouldn't love the fact they didn't have to provide benefits in order to be competitive in the job market? Your argument only holds water if the individuals in question have no individual freedoms.
  • by BarefootClown (267581) on Monday February 16, 2009 @03:05PM (#26876275) Homepage

    No company does anything out of the goodness of their heart unless it will lead to greater profits and/or market dominance. This is doubly so with the drug industry.

    Remind me again where they get the money to do research and development?

    What's that? You say the profit on sales of existing drugs funds research into future drugs? And that if companies stopped profiting from previous developments, future advances would stagnate?

  • Re:So... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rycross (836649) on Monday February 16, 2009 @03:40PM (#26876777)

    Well this case its a company, not a government, deciding to force charity, but don't let that get in the way of your libertarian rage.

  • by sac13 (870194) on Monday February 16, 2009 @05:56PM (#26878871)

    Citizens don't control corporations, but we do control our government.

    Really? So, I can blame you for the Iraq war? I can blame you for Guantanamo (which still isn't closed by the way)?

    Citizens don't control our government. The mob (and I'm not talking about the Italian guys with the nice suits) does. The corporate lobbyists and mass media control our government. They (the government, lobbyists and media) allow us to think we control it, but don't fool yourself.

    And as for corporations, we might not control them, which could be debatable, but they can't use deadly force on us legally. The government can. The lesser of two evils is still evil, but I'd gladly pick the one that can't take my property, freedom or life legally.

    We don't have to be afraid of 'losing our government,' because no one but US can take it away from US. I'm not sure I'm following your logic. Could you try to explain it in a little more depth?

    We use that term a little differently than other parts of the world. That's how I'm using it here. In parlimentary systems, a party is elected and then it forms the government. We elect people who are members of a party. At least, that's what we claim we do. Most people go in and check the names that have their chosen party associated with them.

    So, when I say the purpose is to make people afraid of losing their government, I mean losing the government of the party in control. You've got fearmongering and propaganda on both sides in the US that feeds this. Health care is just another ball in the game they play. Giving more of it to the government (the US government already pays for ~45% of health care costs in the US) just gives the parties another tool to manipulate us with.

    And could you give an example of a system that would, in your opinion, give people a guarantee of access to health care?

    People have guaranteed access now. But, that's not what you're asking. You're asking for a system that guarantees complete care for anyone without concern for costs.

    First, I'm not aware of any system that can guarantee anything. The only guarantee I'm aware of with life is death.

    But, I digress...

    The problem with the current system is that the costs are outrageous. That's why people can't afford basic care. That's why everyone needs some sort of insurance. And, that is where you find the root of the problem.

    Insurance, in health care, is not insurance at all. It's a health payment plan. Real insurance is supposed to insure you against an unexpected loss. Annual check-ups, birth control pills and Viagra are not unexpected. You should pay for those out of your pocket.

    Ahh, but they're too expensive you say. Why? The reason is that the insurance companies long ago made it their mission to change their product (which hardly anyone bought by the way) so that it was involved with every aspect of the system. And, so, they pushed it with companies to use as a cheap way to offer compensation for employees. As more and more people joined the program, they began expanding "coverage" until they covered everything.

    The problem is, with anything that you separate the driver of the cost from the cost itself, the laws of supply and demand begin to break down. Since care is free, people start going to the doctor for splinters and stubbed toes. So, the insurance companies decided to control the costs. They hired their own doctors. The hired people to process and review claims. They started to require things to be authorized to make sure people were only doing things that they really "needed" to have done. Essentially, they implemented rationing. They also raised their premiums on the other side of the equation.

    On the provider side, the doctors had to hire people who were specialists in insurance. They had to hire people to process claims. They had to make sure they complied and followed each companies processes and procedur

  • by unassimilatible (225662) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:13PM (#26880593) Journal
    So in this post you say "The US is where rich Canadians go to get their healthcare"; two posts earlier you said "Moore didn't exactly show the experience of the average Cuban. He and his prop were treated like a VIPs".

    Michael Moore showed how the 50 or so high-ranking Communist Party Members and select VIPs get treated. In contrast, Canadians come to America to get the healthcare that the vast majority of Americans (80+%) get (of course they have to pay out of pocket since they don't have American insurance or medicaid). If you can't see the the difference, you must have been educated in American public schools, another argument against the government running anything.

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