Glaxo proposes patent pool for neglected diseases

WASHINGTON, Feb 13 (Reuters) - GlaxoSmithKline Plc's GSK.L chief executive urged creation of a voluntary patent pool to spark development of new treatments for neglected diseases in the world's poorest countries.

Glaxo CEO Andrew Witty said on Friday his company would contribute its own patents for technologies that might aid research into malaria, cholera and more than a dozen other diseases.

He called on other companies to add patents and make them available for third-party researchers who could develop new products or formulations.

“It is... right that we explore new ways of stimulating research that might otherwise not happen,” Witty said in remarks prepared for a speech at Harvard Medical School.

Glaxo, the world’s second-largest drugmaker, also will cap the prices of patented medicines it sells in the poorest countries to no more than 25 percent of the cost in wealthy nations, Witty said. Prices already are set below that level in some areas, he said in an interview.

The measures are targeted at 50 nations considered the world’s least developed, many of them in Africa.

Pharmaceutical companies drew fire for fiercely backing patents that blocked cheaper competitors, even in the poorest countries, where brand-name medicines were unaffordable. Glaxo and others responded by selling AIDS medicines in certain areas without a profit and offering licenses to generic makers.

Witty said he was challenging the industry to go further to address global health problems by being more flexible on patent protection and pricing in the neediest countries.

“Society expects us to do more in addressing these issues. To be frank, I agree. We have the capacity to do more and we can do more,” he said.

AIDS, afflicting millions of people across Africa, was not included in the list of ailments for the patent pool. Witty said the pool was meant to focus on diseases with a severe lack of treatments, and the need for greater access to AIDS medicines was being addressed in other ways. (Reporting by Lisa Richwine, editing by Editing by Tim Dobbyn)