Glaxo drops appeal in AIDS drug pricing case

A landmark South African legal complaint against British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) over its AIDS drug pricing and policies in that country will proceed after GSK dropped its public and repeated vows to appeal a decision allowing the case to go forward. Instead, GSK simply filed a required legal response to the complaint.

The complaint was filed with South Africa's Competition Tribunal in August by AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the US' largest AIDS organization and several other South African AIDS advocates. AHF operates the 'Ithembalabantu' (Zulu for people's hope) clinic, a free AIDS treatment clinic in Umlazi Township, KwaZulu Natal in partnership with the Network of AIDS Communities of South Africa (NetCom SA) a local non-government organization. In the complaint, AHF and others allege that GSK has charged excessive prices for AIDS drugs to the detriment of South Africans with HIV/AIDS and in violation of the Competition Act.

"Like most bullies, GSK was full of bluster when it vowed repeatedly that it would appeal the very filing of our Tribunal Complaint," said Michael Weinstein, AHF's president. "Yet last week, GSK instead merely filed a response in South Africa by the required deadline. And in its response, GSK hides behind a wall of lawyers and legal arguments, attempting to assert technicalities as to why the Tribunal should not hear this case. If, as GSK claims, it's done nothing wrong, it should be spending its time showing the world why, how -- or even if -- GSK did not violate the law with its AIDS drug pricing in South Africa. Apparently, GSK has to charge illegally high prices so it can pay for its lawyers."

GSK's response to the complaint is the latest step in the ongoing case. The complaint was originally filed with the Competition Commission in January 2003. The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) had lodged a similar complaint with the Competition Commission against GSK during 2002. The Competition Commission initially decided to refer that complaint, as well as the AHF complaint, to the Competition Tribunal. During December 2003, TAC and GSK concluded a settlement endorsed by the Competition Commission; however, AHF was not a party to that settlement.

Earlier this summer, the Competition Tribunal of South Africa agreed to hear the complaint, which was filed by individual South Africans and AHF. The Tribunal also ordered GSK to pay AHF's legal costs.

"The voices of the Complainants and the patients AHF treats were not heard in the other case, and were not included in the settlement. Now, they will be heard," said AHF's Weinstein, expressing his gratitude for the Tribunal's actions.

The case name is In The Matter Between Mpho Makhathnini, Nelislwe Mthethwa, Musa Msomi, Elijah Paul Musoke, Tom Myers, AIDS Healthcare Foundation Limited, and GlaxoSmithKline (Pty) Ltd, Glaxo Group Limited, Case Number 34/CR/Apr04.

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