International News

Pfizer Antiretroviral Drug Licensing Deal for Developing Countries Falls Through

November 12, 2003

A "novel" licensing agreement between pharmaceutical company Pfizer, the Thai not-for-profit group the Concept Foundation and the International Dispensary Association that would have provided a generic version of Pfizer's antiretroviral drug Rescriptor to developing countries has "fallen apart," the Wall Street Journal reports. Pfizer acquired Rescriptor, which is also known generically as delavirdine, in April when it bought drug company Pharmacia. The acquisition helped to create the licensing deal, according to the Journal (Hensley, Wall Street Journal, 11/12). Under the agreement, which was announced in January, Pfizer would have granted non-exclusive licenses for Rescriptor to generic drug makers that agreed to manufacture and supply the drug to countries with a per capita gross national income of less than $1,200 or an HIV prevalence rate greater than 1%. Pfizer would have then transferred its manufacturing technology to the IDA, which would in turn select generic drug companies that meet its manufacturing standards (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/24). The agreement with IDA, a Netherlands-based not-for-profit organization that manufactures and distributes essential medicines to developing countries, and the Concept Foundation would have allowed for a "friendly technology transfer," giving generic drug makers assistance "beyond the patent," including help with manufacturing, according to the Journal.

Things Fall Apart
Robert Mallett, Pfizer's senior vice president for corporate affairs, said that the decision to back out of the deal was "mutual" and based on "clinical drawbacks" of the drug, which is taken three times daily, compared with other drugs that are easier to administer with once-daily or twice-daily doses, the Journal reports. "While we are intrigued by the model, we concluded that this was not the right product," Mallet said, adding, "[S]o we don't want to do it. There are better drugs out there." Rescriptor is sold in the United States and some other countries, including Canada, although the drug has never been widely used, according to the Journal. Some supporters of the deal said that the decision not to pursue the program was not mutual and that dissolving the deal "hampers their efforts to make essential medicines invented in developed countries available at low cost in the developing world," according to the Journal. Concept Foundation CEO Joachim Oehler said that the drug's "limitations were known from the beginning," adding, "This is hypocrisy." Michael Friedman, a former executive at Pharmacia and president of the City of Hope cancer center which helped construct the deal, said, "We knew the conduct of this experiment would depend on the enthusiasm, support and leadership of Pfizer staff. I hoped that we had addressed their questions" (Wall Street Journal, 11/12).

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