With Bristol Myers-Squibb (BMS) raising the price of their HIV/AIDS drugs an unacceptable 6.9 to 9 percent last week, and neglecting to meet with treatment activists to negotiate, it might take some good old-fashioned activism for BMS to change its tune, according to Paul Dalton, Treatment and Research Advocate at Project Inform and a member of the Fair Pricing Coalition (FPC).
Dalton said that the FPC wants BMS to roll back the entire price increase or at least roll it back to no more than what is warranted by the level of the Consumer Price Index, but he's not optimistic.
"The kind of negotiations we've been doing behind the scenes with other companies appears not to be working with them," Dalton said. "There is the potential we'll have to put more pressure and engage in broader types of activist endeavors."
The last time that BMS met with the FPC, the AIDS Treatment Activist Coalition or any other AIDS patient advocacy group was when they were launching Atripla in 2006. According to some who attended the meeting, pricing wasn't discussed.
"ATAC's relationship with BMS is non-existent," said Rob Camp, the former company liaison coordinator for ATAC. "We have consistently tried over the past three years to meet with them in a community setting, with an agreed upon agenda, mostly related to their pipeline, and to the drugs they have in the market as well, and they have shown reticence. Well, beyond reticence, they generally have shown no desire or will to talk community in a non-BMS atmosphere."
A BMS spokesperson disagreed, stating that the company doesn't typically discuss pricing issues with community groups. "We have always been interested in exploring how to work with the community and we do hope to meet with the community leaders in the near future about how to further enhance our dialogue," said Sonia Choi, a BMS spokesperson.
"Gives the Pharmaceutical Industry a Bad Name"
Robert Levaro, a community treatment activist in Tucson and former ATAC Drug Development Committee BMS liaison from 2005 to late 2006, says that BMS has used a comptroller regulation as a "fig leaf." Levaro says that the Pharma giant interpreted the regulation to mean it couldn't speak to the community about anything other than what was on the package insert.
While pharmaceutical companies have long had a working relationship with AIDS treatment advocates, BMS isn't the first to snub the process even though it can benefit both sides. Camp said GlaxoKlineSmith and Boehringer Ingelheim, like BMS, have not met with ATAC, a move that leads him to believe they don't have any exciting new HIV/AIDS projects coming up. "When companies have something to discuss they generally want to meet with us," he said. With BMS, it gives us the general impression that they have nothing to discuss -- especially in the pipeline."
Advocates have been disappointed with BMS's recent developments to their HIV/AIDS drug roster, which consists of Zerit, Sustiva, Atripla (which combines Sustiva with Viread) and Reyataz. In a statement, FPC spokesperson Lynda Dee said, "Bristol is doing very little if any further research in HIV, and overall has poor relations with the patient community. This action makes it clear they don't care what their customers think or need. This is exactly the kind of behavior that gives the pharmaceutical industry such a bad name with the public." Meanwhile, Choi told POZ.com that the reason for the price increase was "to continue BMS' significant investment in innovative therapies for the HIV community and to allow [it] to invest in all compounds in the BMS pipeline."