March 24, 2003
Y.K. Hamied, chairman of the Indian drug firm Cipla, is upset there are few takers for his dirt-cheap triple drug cocktail to combat AIDS symptoms. Hamied rocked the pharmacy world in February 2001, when he started offering an antiretroviral cocktail for less than $1 a day. But there is little demand. The drugs are too expensive for most people to buy, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. And their governments are either too cash-strapped to organize mass treatment or lack the political will to do so. At the same time, AIDS patients in rich countries cannot buy the generic drugs, as their governments uphold the trade rights of global pharmaceutical giants' patented drugs.
The patents for the drugs in Cipla's Triomune cocktail -- lamivudine, stavudine and nevirapine -- are controlled by GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Germany's Boehringer Ingelheim, respectively, but Indian laws allow firms to produce them as long as they use different manufacturing processes. Hamied's gesture of offering the drugs at one-thirtieth the multinationals' prices has caused them to drop prices, albeit reluctantly. The World Health Organization estimates prices are down 95 percent -- still nowhere near generic firms' prices.
A deal to let poor countries buy generic drugs for AIDS and malaria stalled late last year when the United States effectively blocked an agreement, saying it would undermine patent protection for big drug firms. Earlier this year, the U.S. government announced a $15 billion package over five years to help treat AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. About one-third of the world's roughly 40 million AIDS patients will need HIV treatment.
03.18.03; Rosemary Arackaparambil