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LONDON, March 31 (Reuters) - GlaxoSmithKline said on Thursday it would adopt a graduated approach to patenting its medicines, depending on the wealth of different countries, in order to make drugs more affordable in the developing world.
Britain's biggest drugmaker will not file patents for its drugs in the world's poorest states, leaving the way clear for generic companies to make cheap copies, Chief Executive Andrew Witty said.
For lower middle income countries, GSK will seek patents but it aims to strike licence deals that allow supplies of generic versions of its medicines for 10 years. These licences are expected to earn GSK a "small" sales royalty.
The drugmaker will continue to seek full patent protection in richer parts of the world.
In addition, GSK said it intends to give poor countries access to its next-generation cancer drugs by allowing competitors access to its intellectual property through the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool.
GSK sold its established cancer drugs to Novartis in an asset swap that closed last year. It is still working on a number of experimental immuno-oncology and epigenetic cancer therapies.
The drugmaker's actions mark the latest initiative by the pharmaceuticals industry to address criticism that many new drugs are simply too expensive for billions of people in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The wider industry has increasingly adopted a policy of tiered pricing for poor countries, but the decision to waive patent rights in certain areas goes a step further in opening the door to competition. (Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by Jason Neely)