Pressure builds to cut price of HIV medicine
Andrew Jack, Financial Times (UK), Mar 11
Drug companies will be urged to cut further the price of their HIV medicines in the developing world to fulfil a pledge to the Group of Eight countries to offer universal treatment by 2010.
Gareth Thomas, a junior minister at the Department for International Development, said he was stepping up a campaign for the drug manufacturers to practise "differential pricing", orselling their medicines at lower prices than in the developed world.
"An area of disagreement with big pharma is the level of differential pricing," he said. "We will be pushing for much more, especially in the provision of second-line antiretrovirals for Aids."
The comments refer to the fact that while the prices of first-line treatments for HIV patients have fallen sharply in lower-income countries in recent years, those of second-line treatments they require as they develop resistance remain many times higher.
Mr Thomas has made similar remarks in private to industry leaders, most recently last Thursday at a private lunch at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry in London, and is planning further meetings to push the issue.
The minister stressed that a number of companies had made efforts on preferentially priced Aids and malaria medicines, of which he singled out GlaxoSmith- Kline, while arguing that still "more could be done."
The department has been arguing that HIV drugs should be sold at marginal cost in the poorest countries.
It has also been studying large-scale procurement initiatives that would help to reduce costs and move towards last year's pledge to the leading industrialised nations to provide by the end of the decade anti-retrovirals to all who need them.
About 1m people are receiving such drugs in the developing world compared with an estimated 6.5m people who need them.
Mr Thomas said the UK was encouraging developing countries to use the full flexibilities that they had under the trade-related intellectual property aspects of the World Trade Organisation, permitting them to import or manufacture drugs that were still under patent in "health emergencies".
The government, he said, recognised that a broader range of issues needed to be tackled to improve healthcare in the developing world.
The department was working on efforts to strengthen health systems and to reduce corruption in the drugs supply chain, Mr Thomas added.