Increased Access to Antiretroviral Drugs Driving Down Development of New Medications, Opinion Piece Says
Increased access to antiretroviral drugs through generic competition and price concessions is slowing down development of new treatments, Dr. Roger Bate, director of Africa Fighting Malaria, states in a San Francisco Examiner opinion piece. Despite an overall increase in new drug development across the industry, the development of medications that work against HIV/AIDS declined by almost one-third in 2001 compared to 1998. Bate notes that there may be several reasons for the decline in new drug development. First, the number of new drugs may be lower because there may have been "avenues of research begun which subsequently [were] shown to be fruitless," meaning that the remaining drugs in development are "of higher quality, and are more likely to succeed in clinical trials." In this case, the fact that there are fewer drugs in the pipeline could "be slightly misleading and the picture is rosier than imagined," Bate states. However, if that were the case, "surely the industry would be spinning this line rather than ducking the question," he writes, adding that it "seems more likely that it's the lack of potential profitability that is driving industry away from research." Bate attributes this potential lack of profitability to the rise of generic competition and the work of AIDS advocates to win price concessions from brand-name drug makers in developing countries. Noting that the U.K. Commission on Intellectual Property Rights recently released a report favoring weak patent protections in developing nations, he states that it "send[s] the wrong signals to an industry that is already moving away from AIDS drug development" and into more profitable areas such as erectile dysfunction and hypertension. Bate concludes, "It's ironic that activists have scared drug companies into action that will harm AIDS patients in the long run. For while governments and activists blame capitalism, the drug giants and profiteering, it is the drug industry itself developing solutions, instead of just talking about them" (Bate, San Francisco Examiner, 10/18).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.