New GPC making HIV/AIDS drugs
Low price promised By Samantha Alleyne
Stabroek News
December 6, 2001

In a giant leap for the health sector here, the New GPC Inc yesterday disclosed it has begun manufacturing HIV/AIDS anti-retroviral drugs which infected persons could get at a low cost.

The company said in a press release that it was in recognition of its role as a partner in the fight against HIV/AIDS and its responsibility to the people of Guyana that it had commenced the manufacture of the drugs.

According to the release, the raw materials and technical assistance necessary to manufacture the drugs have been obtained from an international pharmaceutical company based in India which manufactures the drugs. When contacted yesterday, Executive Chairman of the company, Dr R. Ramroop declined to disclose the name of the Indian company. The drugs would be produced according to the guidelines provided by this company.

The New GPC is manufacturing nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTI) and non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTI) which are used in the initial treatment of infected persons, as well as protease inhibitors (salvage therapy) which are used if persons become resistant to the aforementioned drugs.

Dr Ramroop said his company is manufacturing LSN30 and LSN40, both triple therapy drugs, along with Dimune, Indimune, Stavimune, Lavimune, Nerahiv and Zidimune.

To produce the drugs, the release said, the newly-privatized company has significantly upgraded its quality control and quality assurance systems and acquired High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) equipment and a number of other instruments to facilitate the manufacture and analysis of the drugs.

"The anti-retrovirals will be of a standard and quality equal to that of any first-world manufacturer but will not carry the burden of their heavy price, placing them within the access of infected Guyanese," the release promised.

The company, which was privatised less than two years ago and is located at Farm, East Bank Demerara, is recognised as the country's oldest and largest pharmaceutical manufacturer. According to the press release, the company felt it was duty bound to support and participate in the battle against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Yesterday's announcement came after weeks of secrecy by Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, who had announced about two months ago that infected persons would be able to access the anti-retroviral drugs at an affordable price, but did not state the source. He had said that the drugs would be available at between US$250-US$350 per annum.

The New GPC's release said that the initiative to manufacture the drugs was conceived as a support mechanism for the government's announced HIV/AIDS programme and represented the company's most significant contribution to the cause.

Dr Ramsammy, in an interview with Stabroek News yesterday said that various international companies held the patents for the drugs and he was unable to say if the New GPC had waivers from these.

The minister said that the drugs had side effects and that was one of the reasons they were being very careful about how they were distributed.

Ramsammy said that as minister of health he did not just jump at the opportunity when the company approached him about manufacturing the drugs, but rather he ensured that the company was in a position to answer the quality issue.

Although the company had a record of producing drugs, the minister said, he wanted more stringent quality control than was normal and according to the minister the company had invested more than US$500,000 to upgrade its facilities.

He said that the company had also hired persons from abroad to work on a long-term basis on this project.

Ramsammy yesterday said that the drugs would be available at the same price to the private sector as the public sector so that hardships would not be created in the private sector that would force people to go to the public sector.

However, he reiterated, as he had said last week at a press briefing, there would be no "willy-nilly" selling of the drugs as the private sector would only obtain the drugs on a recommendation from the Ministry of Health. This was so because the ministry wanted to have "rigid tabs on who is treating whom." Ramsammy noted that the ministry might not know the names of the patients being treated, but would want access to the clinical records to know how they were responding to the drugs.

Ramsammy said that the big question that needed to be answered was who will pay for the drugs in the public sector. He said that at present the number of patients listed in the public sector was under 1,000, and the present allocation was enough to pay for treatment for them. He said the problem was that once persons knew there was an advantage to being tested, the sector would be overwhelmed. The minister said he expected that in the next six months the public sector would have about 5,000 patients and they would be unable to deal with such a large number.

However, the minister said that he had a proposal that he was working on and should there be an agreement on it, the funds would be available. "I am hoping that having taken this bold step... that our international partners, and more specifically in this case, the Global (AIDS) Fund, will recognise the boldness of our efforts and reward us for making this bold step," the minister said.

The minister made it clear that the drugs would not be available in pharmacies as patients would only be accessing the drugs through doctors.

In order for doctors to be registered with the ministry to purchase the drugs they would have to complete training on how to administer the drugs. This training will start on Monday.

The minister said that this initial training will be conducted by Programme Manager of the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS), Dr Morris Edwards and Dr Jotir Ramnarine, who is in charge of HIV/AIDS patients at the Georgetown Public Hospital.

An overseas doctor will enhance this training in January, while Dr Ramnarine and Dr Michael Ali from the GUM Clinic would be sent to Mexico for further training.

The minister said that the patients in the public sector would be able to access the drugs free immediately.