The IPKat has learned that GlaxoSmithKline, the world's biggest manufacturer of Aids drugs, is changing the colour of the tablets it sells to the developing world in an attempt to prevent widespread drug smuggling. The colour change marks a fresh approach to the problem faced by drug companies that sell their products at cost in countries where HIV is widespread, such as Uganda, only to find those drugs reimported illegally to the developed world where they normally retail for a much higher price. Some companies have changed the packaging of their drugs in the developing world to try to combat smugglers, but GSK is changing the colour of its COMBIVIR tablet - the world's most popular HIV medication - from white to bright red. EPIVIR, another HIV drug, will be given the same treatment (no mention is made of TRIZIVIR, which has also found its way back into the UK). All three of these drugs were the subject of injunctive litigation earlier this year. Since GSK’s products cost less than 50 pence a day to treat someone in a developing country with COMBIVIR, compared with £11 a day in the UK, the profit margins for reimported drugs are huge. GSK wants to maintain price differentials, saying it needs to make a profit on the drugs in the developed world to recoup the large costs of research and development that went into creating them.

The COMBIVIR and EPIVIR tablets must be forwarded to drug regulators in each country in which they are sold, for reapproval with the red formulation. GSK will have to show that the red pills do not deteriorate on the shelf at a different rate from the existing white ones. The accelerated data must be available for three to six months before approval is forthcoming. The new colouring must also obtain certification from the European authorities so that they can be submitted to the international markets. This is not the first time that a drug company has differentiated products between the developed and developing worlds. Pfizer's DIFLUCAN, a treatment for thrush, is sold in capsule form in regular dealings and given in a tablet form to relief agencies and other third world channels.

The IPKat regrets that so much medicine destined for the poor and needy in developing countries finds its way into the hands of profiteers who sell it back into well-supplied developed markets rather than enabling its intended beneficiaries to regain their health or improve their quality of life. He is also astonished that the activities of GSK, a company that provides discounted medicines to some 100 developing countries, should so consistently the subject of criticism when the activities of largely anonymous parallel trading profiteers appear to escape censure.

Some perspectives on pharmaceutical profiteering here, here and here

COLOUR-CODED DRUGS TO BEAT PROFITEERS COLOUR-CODED DRUGS TO BEAT PROFITEERS Reviewed by Jeremy and Ilanah on Thursday, January 01, 2004 Rating: 5

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