Abbott Cuts Prices on Two AIDS Drugs, Diagnostic Test in AfricaAbbott Laboratories is expected to announce today that it will sell "at cost" two AIDS drugs, Norvir and Kaletra, and an "easy-to-use" HIV diagnostic test, Determine, in sub-Saharan Africa, the Wall Street Journal reports. Abbott is "still determining" prices for the two protease inhibitors, which retail wholesale in the United States for $7,100 and $6,500 annually, respectively. A source "close to the company" said that Abbott will likely provide both drugs at an annual cost of less than $1,000 per patient, a 70% reduction of Norvir's discount price that Abbott already offers in Africa. Last year, Norvir generated $200 million in sales worldwide and Kaletra, which was only approved by the FDA late last year, is expected to sell equally well this year. Abbott is also offering Determine, an HIV diagnostic test kit, that currently retails for $1.20 in Africa, at no profit to the company. Prices for all three products will "vary among purchasers," a company spokesperson said. The price will include manufacturing and transportation costs, but will exclude costs for marketing and research, the spokesperson added. This offer differs from Abbott's earlier discounts because it also includes a mechanism for facilitating drug distribution. The company has hired Dublin-based consulting firm Axios International to set up an office in Kampala, Uganda, to handle and evaluate requests for the drugs and kits from governments, medical centers, not-for-profit agencies and employers throughout the continent. Axios CEO Joseph Saba said, "Abbott believes it needed to add a feature to get the drugs to people who need them." However, without financial support from wealthy nations, the drugs still "aren't going to be used," he added.
More to Come?
Abbott's discounts are the latest in a series of "striking" price reductions on AIDS medications in Africa. Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb have already announced their intentions to scale back prices on AIDS drugs. However, according to the Journal, several companies, "most notably" Pfizer Inc. and Roche Holdings Ltd., have yet to make any moves toward greater discounts. Roche is part of a UNAIDS initiative announced last May to reduce the price of AIDS medications in Africa, but only last month did the company offer a 50% rebate on the price of its protease inhibitor Fortovase and a 15% rebate on the price of another protease inhibitor, Viracept. But even with those discounts, the offer will not reach the majority of Africans with AIDS. "It is really not much of an offer because nobody here can afford even the new price," Sowedi Muyingo, who purchases AIDS medications in Uganda for Medical Access Ltd., said. Last year, Pfizer, "[u]nder pressure" from AIDS activists, agreed to donate the antifungal medication Diflucan to South Africa for the next two years, but the company has "no plans" to reduce the medication's price. After two years, the program will be reevaluated about the same time the company's patent expires. GlaxoSmithKline recently reduced the price of Combivir to $2 a day, but said it has "no plans" to discount its AIDS drug Ziagen or its new triple combination therapy Trizivir. GSK officials are "worried" that "rare but dangerous" side effects associated with the drugs "might be more difficult to deal with in Africa," a spokesperson said. Student activists at the University of Minnesota, which holds Ziagen's patent, are "push[ing]" the school to discuss price reductions or the possibility of allowing generic competition for the drug. Bristol-Myers, which recently announced it would allow generic production of its drug Zerit, is currently engaged in a "patent battle" with AIDS activists in Thailand who seek to revoke the company's patent on its other AIDS drug, Videx (Zimmerman/Waldholz, Wall Street Journal, 3/27).