Medecins Sans Frontieres Criticizes Drug Maker Roche for Failing to Adhere to Pledge to Cut AIDS Drug Prices in Developing Nations
The nongovernmental organization Medecins Sans Frontieres today criticized Swiss drug maker Roche Holding for not "liv[ing] up to its promise" to reduce the price of its antiretroviral drugs for developing nations, the Wall Street Journal reports. The organization said that of the five major drug makers that have announced plans to cut their prices of antiretroviral drugs in developing nations, Roche is the "lone holdout" in failing to follow through. Roche reported to MSF that its "best price" for the protease inhibitor Viracept was approximately $3,170 per patient per year for patients in the "least developed" countries. Drug maker Merck & Co. charges only $600 per patient per year in developing nations for its protease inhibitor Crixivan. MSF stated that while it was unable to obtain Viracept at the best price quoted by Roche, Merck has sold Crixivan at the discount it promised. In addition, the price of Viracept "var[ies] widely" among countries, according to Daniel Berman, an MSF spokesperson. Berman said that the price of an annual dose of the drug costs $4,124 in Cameroon and $7,110 in Ukraine, with the latter price surpassing the retail price of the drug in Switzerland.
Failing a Promise to Forgo Profits?
In 2000, Roche joined four other pharmaceutical firms in pledging to "slash" the prices of antiretroviral drugs in developing nations, and on April 18 the company promised "not to profit from its HIV therapeutic portfolio" in poor countries. But Swiss AIDS researchers say that Roche "appear[s] to be profiting" from its AIDS drugs marketed in developing countries. A raw materials supplier for Agouron, which markets Viracept in North America, states that the materials for Viracept cost between $700 and $900 per kilogram. Eloan Dos Santos Pinheiro, a former official with a generic drug maker in Brazil, said that at these prices, an annual dose of Viracept could be manufactured and "sold profitably" for approximately $1,350 per patient per year. These data indicate that Roche could cut the price of Viracept and "still make a profit" on the drug, the Journal reports (Zimmerman, Wall Street Journal, 11/15).