Thursday, May 17, 2007

Drug Companies and Poor Countries Battle Over Anti-HIV Drug Prices

The invaluable Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report has a number of articles in the about the ongoing battle between the paharmaceutucal industry who produce life-saving medications and the people who need them.

In Thailand, one day after failing to come to a price agreement with Abbott Laboratories about its anti-HIV drugs Aluvia and Kaletra, the Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla announced that the country will not issue compulsory licences to produce low-cost versions of anti-retroviral drugs as long as pharmaceutical companies match the price of generic versions of those drugs.
The Thai government in November 2006 and January [2007] issued compulsory licenses to produce lower-cost versions of Merck's antiretroviral Efavirenz and Kaletra, respectively. Since then, the government and drug companies have continued negotiations. Abbott earlier this week offered to sell Aluvia at a reduced price in Thailand on the condition that the country agrees not to allow generic versions of the drug into the market, Siriwat Thiptaradol, secretary-general of Thailand's Food and Drug Administration, said. Abbott offered to sell Aluvia for about 34,000 baht, or $1,000, per person annually. Indian generic drug maker Matrix Laboratories has offered to sell a generic version of Aluvia to Thailand for 24,324 baht, or $695, per person annually. Siriwat said that the offer would be considered by Mongkol. Under the terms of the offer, Thailand would have to agree not to seek compulsory licensing for Aluvia and the price of Aluvia could not be reduced any further (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/15). According to Reuters Alertnet, Aluvia is needed in Thailand because it is a heat-stable version of Kaletra and eliminates the need for costly refrigeration (Reuters AlertNet, 5/15).

The recent actions of Thailand and Brazil are being noticed by other pharmaceutical companies. Boehringer Ingelheim announced on Tuesday May 15 that it will sell its anti-retroviral drug nevirapine at a reduced price of 50% or 90% below it's previously announced prices, depending on the relative wealth of the country. Nevirapine is a widely used drug to dramatically reduce the rate of transmission of HIV from pregnant mothers to their newborn children. When the drug is given in pill form to HIV-positive mothers during the end of their pregnancy and labor and to the baby in syrup form within 72 hours of birth it is found to reduce the transmision of HIV from mother to child.
[T]he drug will cost 60 cents per patient daily in 78 low-income countries and $1.20 per patient daily in 67 middle-income countries. In developed countries, the drug costs between $10 and $14 per patient daily. The company also will waive a 5% royalty fee, reporting requirements and other existing obligations for generic drug producers that have World Health Organization approval to make nevirapine using voluntary licenses.
The story doesn't clarify which countries will qualify as "low-income" and which will qualify as "middle-income." Regardless, Mad Professah is happy to see that countries standing up to drug companies is starting to result in drug companies making their drugs cheaper to more people which will save many lives around the world.

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