Guyana accessing key HIV drug cheaply from US-based company -Ramsammy
Stabroek News
April 12, 2007

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Guyana will not benefit from the recent slashing of the cost of a key HIV/AIDS drug by more than half in 40 poor countries, as announced by a US-based company, because it is already accessing the same drug very cheaply, Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy said yesterday.

Contacted yesterday, Ramsammy said that even though Guyana is one of the 40 countries listed to benefit from the reduced price, this country has been accessing the drug for almost a year following negotiations between the government and the company's agents.

The Health Minister told this newspaper that Guyana was already accessing the drug at US$1,000 a year per patient or even cheaper, but he could not remember the exact price and was unable to gather that information when this newspaper made contact with him late yesterday afternoon.

According to the minister, the drug, which is produced by Abbott Laboratories Inc, has been used for second-line treatment among people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) for almost a year. "The adjusted price that was recently publicly announced will not benefit Guyana even though Guyana is on the list of the countries that could benefit as we have already been accessing the drug and at reduced price," the minister said.

Second-line treatment is the drug therapy offered to PLWHA who experience treatment failure or drug resistance while using the first-line, commonly offered anti-retroviral therapy.

According to a press release from the company it has entered an agreement with the World Health Organization's (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan for the 40 countries, which are low and middle income, to access Kaletra/Aluvia (lopinavir/ ritonavir) at US$1,000 a year.

The company described the move as, "a balanced approach" to provide the capsules and tablets to more patients in the developing world, "while supporting continued long-term biopharmaceutical research and development."

It was stated that in the interest of international public health, Chan approached Abbott to discuss how to improve affordability and access while maintaining incentives to support developing new medicines.

"To meet the needs of countries committed to expanding HIV/AIDS treatment, Abbott will offer the governments of more than 40 low and low-middle income countries (as defined by World Bank criteria) and NGOs a new price of $1,000 per patient per year. This price is lower than any generic price available in the world today for this medicine and is approximately 55 percent less than the average current price for these countries," the company said.

Abbott will immediately begin discussions with individual countries where Abbott's patents are respected to maximize the number of patients that can be provided Kaletra/Aluvia capsules and tablets at this new price.

Abbott said it is taking this action in order to further increase access and address the debate around pricing of HIV medicines, "by increasing affordability while preserving the system that enables the discovery of new medicines."

It said that the patents of scientists and inventors must exist so that there are incentives for sustained research and development. "Without this system, the miracle drugs the world enjoys today, including HIV medicines, would not exist."

Kaletra capsules are registered in 118 countries, making it the most widely registered HIV medicine. Kaletra/Aluvia tablets will be registered in more than 150 countries at the completion of the registration process.

According to information on the company's website Kaletra (lopinavir/ritonavir) is indicated for the treatment of HIV-1 infected adults and children above the age of two years, in combination with other antiretroviral agents. It was stated that most experience with Kaletra is derived from the use of the product in antiretroviral therapy naïve patients.

Data in heavily pretreated protease inhibitor-experienced patients is limited. There is limited data on salvage therapy on patients who have failed therapy with Kaletra.

The choice of Kaletra to treat protease inhibitor-experienced HIV-1 infected patients should be based on individual viral resistance testing and treatment history of patients. Kaletra is not recommended for use in children below two years of age due to insufficient data on safety and efficacy.

The other eligible countries include India, Pakistan, Papau New Guinea, Bolivia, Bosnia, Brazil, China, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, Jamaica, Jordan, Suriname and Thailand. Countries in Africa and the least developed countries, which include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Benin and Algeria can access the drug for about US$500 a year.

Abbott describes itself as a global, broad-based health care company devoted to the discovery, development, manufacture and marketing of pharmaceuticals and medical products, including nutritionals, devices and diagnostics. The company employs 65,000 people and markets its products in more than 130 countries. (Oluatoyin Alleyne)