S. Africa to allow new AIDS drug suit against Glaxo
Last Updated: 2004-07-26
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa will let activists file a new case against GlaxoSmithKline Plc over AIDS drugs, which they say still cost too much for those who need them, competition tribunal officials said on Monday.
British-based GSK and Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim last year inked an out-of-court settlement in an earlier case, agreeing to grant more licences to firms to produce and import antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.
The deal was approved by South Africa’s Competition Tribunal as a final settlement and a number of new generic licenses have since been granted to South African manufacturers.
But the U.S.-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) and several South African activists said they were not part of the agreement, and the tribunal officials said on Monday they would be given 20 days to file a new complaint.
"The voices of the complainants and the patients AHF treats were not heard in the other case," AHF President Michael Weinstein said in a statement.
Attorney Musa Ntsibande said the complaint was intended as a first step toward obtaining an anti-competitiveness ruling, which would allow GSK to be sued for damages.
"They have never admitted liability," he said. "What they have done has been too little, too late."
GSK South Africa issued a statement expressing disappointment at the tribunal’s decision and calling the new complaint "unfounded".
"We are progressing well with the terms of the settlement. We have granted two voluntary licenses for the manufacture and supply of GSK antiretrovirals in South Africa and continue to make progress towards further agreements," the company said.
MILLIONS NEED DRUGS
South Africa has more people living with HIV/AIDS than any other country — an estimated 5.3 million, equal to 13 percent of the world’s infected.
After years of delay the country this year launched a public ARV treatment programme, increasing pressure on drug supplies.
South Africa’s Competition Commission found last year both GSK and Boehringer Ingelheim had a case to answer on anti-competitive behaviour on AIDS drugs and recommended to the tribunal, an enforcement body, they be fined and required to allow the manufacture of generics.
That ruling was set aside by the out-of-court settlement.
Activists said on Monday they would drop Boehringer from the new complaint because they were satisfied with its performance. But they said GSK had not come through on its promise to make generics more widely available.
GSK has granted generic licences to South African drug makers Aspen Pharmacare and Thembalami Pharmaceuticals, a joint venture between Adcock Ingram and India’s Ranbaxy Laboratories.
But activists say the generics are still hard to get and blame GSK for holding the process up.
"We have not yet seen a single pill," said Swazi Hlubi, executive director of the Network of AIDS Communities of South Africa, one of the complainants in the case.
"We want to see evidence that they are coming through, to apply pressure so that the process is sped up. People are dying and we need to get to the root of the problem."