Two Chinese Pharmaceutical Firms Apply to Produce Generic AIDS Drugs
Two Chinese drug companies, one private and one state-owned, have applied to the country's State Drug Administration to begin producing generic AIDS drugs, the Wall Street Journal reports. Shanghai Desano Biopharmaceutical Co., a private firm, has requested the right to produce generic forms of didanosine and stavudine and said it also plans to submit a request to produce a generic version of zidovudine, or AZT. State-owned Northeast General Pharmaceutical Factory said it has also submitted an application to produce generic AIDS drugs. Both firms already manufacture for export to places like Brazil and India the raw materials used to make AIDS drugs. They are hoping that loopholes in Chinese patent law will allow them to make and sell the generic drugs domestically. "We can produce everything an HIV [positive] person needs for $400 a year," Li Jinliang, the deputy general manager of Shanghai Desano, said, adding that he expects a decision from the government in June (Chang, Wall Street Journal, 11/15). If officials approve the generics, it would appear to go against current policy, Reuters/Contra Costa Times reports. Earlier this week, Chinese officials said that the government, which was recently admitted to the World Trade Organization, had "no immediate plans" to allow generic production of AIDS medications. According to state media reports, Chinese pharmaceutical companies have been instructed not to break patents because of China's new commitment to WTO standards. However, Li said his drugs were the result of two years of his firm's own research. "It's our own development, but of course we have to refer to related reports from foreign sources. We couldn't possibly start from scratch," he said. A spokesperson for Bristol-Myers Squibb said she was not aware that any Chinese firms were considering producing AIDS drugs (Reuters/Contra Costa Times, 11/15). Bristol-Myers began selling its AIDS drugs in the country in April and has a "very small-scale" operation in China.
Expanding Treatment Access
If generic AIDS drug production is permitted in China, it could "dramatically" alter the way HIV/AIDS is treated. GlaxoSmithKline, the world's largest AIDS drug maker, said it has only about 50 clients in China. Most doctors do not inform their patients about antiretroviral therapy because the price is prohibitively high. "In theory, we should tell them ... But China is in an awkward situation of no care, no help, no treatment. If you tell them and there's no treatment, they may commit suicide or turn against society," Li Jianhua, a psychiatrist, explained. However, if cheaper drugs are available, "doctors will have more methods at their disposal," Cao Yunzhen, deputy director of the National Center for AIDS Prevention and Control, said (Wall Street Journal, 11/15).