South Africa Cites HIV/AIDS Crisis in Hopes of Lowering the Cost of HIV MedicationsSouth African governments are embroiled in legal battles with American drug companies in an effort to get affordable drugs to their people. While manufacturers claim patents on all HIV medications and with that claim offer unaffordable drugs, companies in other parts of the world offer generic versions for far less. Major manufacturers in the US want to block generics from being offered, claiming patent rights. To circumvent the debate, African officials are ready to declare a national emergency, paving the way to receive unauthorized generics from other, smaller manufacturers of HIV medications. Still, officials in the pharmaceutical industry vow to block such an effort in hopes of preserving their hold on the HIV drug market.
Yale Urged to Help Cut Drug CostsThe medical charity, Doctors Without Borders has asked Yale University, holder of the patent for the HIV medication Zerit, to allow South Africa to import generic versions of the drug. Citing a deal with Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS), the manufacturer of the drug, the university has rejected the group's request. However, a group of Yale law students have turned up the heat, pressuring the school to re-examine their position on the proposal. For now, Yale has announced that efforts are underway that would remove barriers preventing BMS to export the generic version of the drug. Unfortunately, a generic version of the drug has yet made its way to AIDS ravaged Africa.
Merck and Others Lend a HandDrug manufacturer, Merck has announced that it will cut the price of their Protease Inhibitor Crixivan to about $600 per year, or about 10 percent of what it costs in the United States. Similar announcements by Bristol Myers Squib and GlaxoSmithKline will lower the cost of their drugs to about $100 per month. In the latest move, Abbott, the maker of the HIV drug Kaletra has struck a deal with Brazil to cut Kaletra's price by 30 percent, saving Brazil about $10 million per year. The $10 million means more people will get HIV medications. While these cuts may make the drugs more affordable for state sponsored programs, AIDS agencies and other charities trying to help, HIV medications will still not be cheap enough for most of the hardest hit countries.
Cipla Offers Cheaper HIV MedicationsCipla, an Indian maker of generic drugs manufacturer is ready to offer and provide for sale cheaper generic copies of many HIV medications. Their first offer is a triple drug regimen that will cost about $600 per year or about 40 percent less then the discounted price offered by the major drug manufacturers. The offer propels Cipla into the worldwide debate over patent law and whether companies should be allowed to produce generics despite US patents. While touted as a humanitarian gesture by Cipla's management team, several outsiders feel this is just a clever marketing ploy to catapult Cipla into worldwide recognition as a major player in the pharmaceutical industry. Regardless, most agree that Cipla could help a great deal in the search for affordable HIV drugs.
A New Player in the Drug GameA second drug manufacturer from India, Hetero Drugs Limited has offered to provide the same combination of HIV medications offered by Cipla for only about $347 per year. This offer furthers the growing price war and legal debate over who and how HIV medications will be made available in Africa. However, a concern is that as competition increases, cost-cutting measures could jeopardize the quality of generic HIV medications.
Finally...A Generic HIV DrugBarr Laboratories has recently gained approval for the first generic formulation of an HIV medication in the United States. Their new drug is a generic version of the very popular Videx EC delayed release capsule. Barr hopes to market the drug immediately and HIV medical professionals around the world hope that it's approval will pave the way for other generic formulations of HIV medications. Competition for the HIV medication marketplace could eventually bring down the cost of HIV medications across the board. Cheaper drugs will mean more accessibility for people living with HIV in the US and around the world.
It's obvious that this drug war has just begun. And while the legal maneuvering goes on, people continue to die in countries around the world; deaths that could be avoided if HIV medications access was better. The drugs help; that's a given. But only if you can get them and that has proven to be the hard part.