No Takers Yet For Cipla’s Offer of Discounted AIDS DrugsCipla Ltd., the Indian pharmaceutical manufacturer that "jolted" the drug industry two weeks ago when it offered to sell a triple-combination of AIDS drugs at the "much-reduced" price of $600 per patient per year, has yet to receive acceptance from any developing country government or nongovernmental organization, the Wall Street Journal reports. "We thought, in our naivete, we'd have people calling us and saying 'fantastic,'" Amar Lulla, Cipla's joint managing director, said. But so far the "initial euphoria" over the offer has passed and potential buyers are left feeling "deeply frustrated by the complexity of buying and distributing the medicines." Cipla also offered to lower the annual price of the combination therapy even more -- to $350 -- for Doctors Without Borders, an NGO that provides medical services in developing nations. The organization plans to place a "limited order" with Cipla as part of its pilot programs involving 6,000 AIDS patients in 20 countries, but said it has "no intention" of becoming a global distributor of AIDS drugs. Dr. Bernard Pecoul, a top official with the group, said that job is "much more the mandate of U.N. agencies."
Lending Hand From UNICEF?
Officials from Doctors Without Borders on Wednesday met with Mark Stirling, an AIDS adviser with UNICEF, about the possibility of distributing drugs from UNICEF's warehouse in Copenhagen, Denmark, but Stirling "cautioned" that the agency would need "stronger commitments" from local governments that AIDS is a "top priority" before a distribution could take place. He also noted that UNICEF would require a "sharp increase" in funding to purchase and distribute medicines, even at the reduced rates offered by Cipla. U.N. officials are "proceeding cautiously" with Cipla's offer, citing a need for more information about price maintenance and the "patent implications" of distributing the drugs in some African countries. Cipla also said it will offer the discounted "humanitarian" price only to agencies backed by Doctors Without Borders. However, the organization said that offer is "impractical" and wants the company to make the discount available to developing country governments. "Despite widespread agreement that subsidies for AIDS drugs need to come from rich countries and philanthropic foundations, interest remains negligible," according to the Journal. According to the World Health Organization, AIDS medications are "unlikely to win funding subsidies from foundations and wealthy nations until prices fall even further." Following Cipla's offer, pharmaceutical companies, five of which pledged last May to lower prices in the developing world, are under "even more intense pressure to cut costs and waive patent restrictions" and have begun "clamoring" for donor funding (Freedman/Zimmerman/Pearl, Wall Street Journal, 2/23).