February 20, 2001

Contact: Kate Krauss (718) 857-8886
Asia Russell (215) 731-1844

AIDS ACTIVISTS TAKE OVER GLAXOSMITHKLINE INVESTOR RELATIONS OFFICE
Expose company-wide policy of blocking generic AIDS drug access

 

Action happening today: GlaxoSmithKline Investor Relations Office, 499 Park Ave, Btn 58th and 59th St, 21st floor.

(February 20, 2001) Outraged by GlaxoSmithKline's company-wide policy of thwarting access to affordable generic AIDS drugs in Africa, activists from ACT UP New York, ACT UP Philadelphia, and the Health GAP Coalition took over the giant drugmaker's Manhattan investor relations offices today.

The activists occupied the office after infiltrating the building. They threw "blood money" and empty pill bottles, chanting "GlaxoSmithKline! GlobalSerialKiller!" Activists used chains to lock down together in the office; there were six arrests.

"We are here today to expose GlaxoSmithKlineís campaign to keep affordable generic medication out of the hands of millions of people with AIDS," said Laura McTighe of ACT UP. GlaxoSmithKline held a meeting with institutional investors last week regarding the company's policies regarding access to medication. Investors are increasingly distraught by Glaxo's public image on the issue of access to affordable drugs, and the impact of their poor image on share price. (See Financial Times, Feb 16 2001, David Pilling.)

Added ACT UP's Mark Milano, "The company has one priority: its shareholders and its quarterly reports. And when the company announces financial results for 2000 across the world tomorrow, they should include this number: one million people died of AIDS each quarter while the company continued its deadly campaign against generic drug access."

The company, controlling more than one-third of the HIV antiviral drug market, has been singled out by numerous public health, relief, and charitable agencies such as Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders for their persistent use of stall tactics, litigation, and threats in order to maintain high AIDS drug prices despite the unrelenting global pandemic.

Said Asia Russell of ACT UP, "As long as Glaxo keeps insisting that patents and prices arenít the real problem, we know that this is only a game to them. Glaxo claims to be taking action to increase global AIDS drug access--but the company's own CEO calls their drug access programs "a drop in the bucket."

Activists cite three primary examples of GlaxoSmithKlineís longstanding policy of suppressing lawful generic drug access:

* In South Africa, GlaxoSmithKline is lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the South African government over its Medicines Act. This Act would grant the government rights to obtain inexpensive AIDS drugs to treat its citizens. Opening arguments in the case begin March 5th after more than three years of delay in courts. AIDS activists in South Africa have declared an International Day of Solidarity against the lawsuit, and mass demonstrations are planned in several US cities and around the world.

"Glaxoís lawsuit against South Africa is the most flagrant example of the companyís boundless commitment to blocking poor peoplesí access to drugs," said Diane Huff of ACT UP. The lawsuit has delayed implementation of the Medicines Act for more than three years. In that time, an estimated 400,000 South Africans died of AIDS.

* GlaxoSmithKline attacked Cipla, a generic manufacturer in India, threatening legal action against them last year when they imported a generic AIDS drug patented by GlaxoSmithKline to Ghana. Glaxo claimed Cipla violated their patent rights by selling the generic drug. But according to local patent officials, the drug in question could not have been patented by GlaxoSmithKline in Ghana, because the relevant patents were filed before Ghana even had a domestic pharmaceutical patent law. But the threat of litigation from GlaxoSmithKline was enough to stop the flow of drugs to Ghana.

According to SharonAnn Lynch of ACT UP New York, "Glaxo is deliberately lying about its claim to patent in Ghanaóthey are doing everything they can think of to keep prices as high as possible for as long as possible." The imported drugs are now sitting on shelves in Ghana, unused.

* Glaxo has consistently used delay tactics to discourage initiatives that would reduce its prices. In May 2000, with a huge amount of publicity, the company announced that it would be providing AIDS drugs at deep discounts to African nations as a member of a five company initiative organized by the World Health Organization. However, these plans amount to treatment for only about 2,500 of the 35 million people now living with AIDS. UNAIDS officials cite drug company unwillingness to negotiate deep price reductions as the prime reason negotiations have moved so slowly. During a recent meeting, JP Garnier, GlaxoSmithKlineís Chief Executive, asserted that the existing access programs amounted to only "a drop in the bucket" but announced that the world would have to wait until July 2001 for the companyís new access plan.

"When a company voluntarily admits that they are not doing enough to save lives, but refuses to stop blocking the life saving efforts of others, that is nothing less than mass murder," said Eric Sawyer of ACT UP. Activists view these delay tactics as part of a strategy to string along the international community and to discourage it from protesting Glaxoís high prices.

ACT UP DEMANDS THAT GLAXOSMITHKLINE:

* Drop the lawsuit against South Africa
* Stop bullying Ghana and other developing nations trying to import generic AIDS drugs
* Publicly admit that they have no valid claim to patent on Combivir in Ghana
* Make their drugs available at cost immediately in poor countries

More than 1 million people are dying of AIDS around the world every 4 months. Seventy percent are in Sub Saharan Africa. The life expectancy of a person in Sub Saharan Africa after infection is about 6 years.

NEXT STEPS: International Global Day of Solidarity March 5, 2000:

March 5 is the first day in court for the 40 drug companies suing the South African government over the South African Medicines Act which would legislate broader access to affordable, live extending medication for South African citizens.

For updates about activist protests worldwide on March 5, visit: www.globaltreatmentaccess.org (Health GAP Coalition) and www.tac.org.za (Treatment Action Campaign, South Africa). New York City March 5th ACTIONS


Tuesday February 20, 2001

U.S. AIDS activists target Glaxo over drug prices

NEW YORK, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Six AIDS activists were arrested on Tuesday during a demonstration at a GlaxoSmithKline Plc (quote from Yahoo! UK & Ireland: GSK.L) office in New York over access to medicines in poor countries, protesters said.

About 30 protesters threw empty pill bottles, chanted and waved signs saying ``Glaxo's Greed Kills'' in the lobby of a Manhattan office building that houses the company's investor relations office, said Eric Sawyer of ACT-UP New York.

Some demonstrators also chained themselves to desks in GlaxoSmithKline's 21st floor office, Sawyer said.

``We've taken over their office,'' Sawyer said from his cell phone during the protest. ``If they won't run their company in a responsible manner, we will run it for them.''

Sawyer said Glaxo officials were working to keep African countries from making or importing generic versions of AIDS drugs that are less expensive than the company's products. The protesters called on the company to drop efforts specifically aimed at Ghana and South Africa and to make drugs available at cost to poor countries.

AIDS is spreading quickly throughout sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, and drug makers face growing pressure to make medicines available at discounted prices.

London-based GlaxoSmithKline is the world's largest supplier of treatments for AIDS and HIV. Company spokeswoman Mary Anne Rhyne said the firm was working with governments and organizations to expand drug access in the developing world.

``We are determined to do our part with other stakeholders to improve
the situation,'' Rhyne said.

Rhyne said a lawsuit brought by about 40 companies against South Africa aimed to protect firms' patent rights to medicines they developed. She said GlaxoSmithKline had taken no legal action in Ghana, where Indian company Cipla Ltd. reportedly was trying to sell generic versions of Glaxo's AIDS drug Combivir.

``We alerted Cipla that patents existed on our drugs and said no immediate action will be taken. No action has been taken,'' Rhyne said.


GlaxoSmithKline's NY Offices Targeted by ACT UP Protesters


New York, Feb. 20
(Bloomberg) -- Police arrested five AIDS activists who chained themselves to a conference table in the Manhattan office of GlaxoSmithKline Plc, the world's second largest drug company.

Twenty-five ACT UP demonstrators burst into Glaxo's 21st floor office at 499 Park Avenue at 1:30 p.m., said Mark Milano a member of ACT UP New York. The group says the company has blocked the export of less expensive AIDS medications to South Africa and Ghana.

The group is calling for lower priced drugs for patients with HIV in Africa, where the virus is hitting hardest. The protesters targeted GlaxoSmithKline in part because the company is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that seeks to keep the South African government from making available less expensive generic versions of brand-name drugs.

Company officials say they are trying to improve access to the drugs in Africa. ``We're working the best we can to improve the quality of health care in Africa,'' said Mary Anne Rhyne, a GlaxoSmithKline spokeswoman. ``We are working with the governments to assure the highest quality, lowest cost medication.''

Of the 25 protesters in the office, five had their chains cut and were carried from the building, which also houses the offices of Bloomberg LP. The suspects are being processed, said Detective Carolyn Chew, a police department spokeswoman.

The protesters said they tossed empty pill bottles in the office and papered it with ``blood money,'' stained with red ink and carrying the likeness of GlaxoSmithKline's chief executive, Jean-Pierre Garnier.

Another 50 protesters occupied the lobby of the building for a time, ACT UP officials said. Last week, representatives from ACT UP protested during a meeting attended by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Chief Executive Charles Heimbold, and made similar calls for lower prices on AIDS drugs in developing nations.

The U.K.-based Oxfam charity organization earlier this month urged GlaxoSmithKline and other drugmakers to give up patent protection for their products in developing nations to help reduce prices, and drop their opposition to South Africa's plans for making the drugs available.

While companies have offered their HIV drugs to African nations for as little as $2 a day, that's too expensive for most people on the continent, where 13 million have died from AIDS, activists say.



NEXT STEPS: International Global Day of Solidarity March 5, 2000:

March 5 is the first day in court for the 40 drug companies suing the South African government over the South African Medicines Act which would legislate broader access to affordable, live extending medication for South African citizens.

For updates about activist protests worldwide on March 5, visit: www.globaltreatmentaccess.org (Health GAP Coalition) and www.tac.org.za (Treatment Action Campaign, South Africa). New York City March 5th ACTIONS

 



use back button on browser to return