Roche To Sell AIDS Drugs Viracept, Invirase at Cost to Least-Developed Nations
Swiss drug maker Roche has announced that it will begin selling its antiretroviral drug Viracept at cost to least-developed nations beginning in March, "bowing" to criticism that the drug maker has not "done enough" to make the drug affordable, the Wall Street Journal reports. In least-developed nations, an annual regimen of Viracept, a protease inhibitor known generically as nelfinavir, would cost approximately $900 per person under the new plan, compared to $3,300 previously. In low-income nations that are "slightly more developed," such as Albania and Egypt, the price of the drug will be reduced to approximately $2,970 per person annually; the current retail cost of Viracept is more than $6,000 per person per year. According to the Journal, the price adjustment will bring the cost of Viracept "in line" with the cost of four other significant antiretroviral drugs whose prices were reduced in May 2000 after an "intense" international lobbying effort (Fuhrmans/Zimmerman, Wall Street Journal, 2/13). Under a plan negotiated with the United Nations, Roche, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Boehringer Ingelheim agreed to reduce their AIDS drug prices, trying to "significantly increase health care services in sub-Saharan Africa and other areas where the AIDS epidemic is reaching crisis levels" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/15/00). However, international humanitarian groups said that Roche failed to reduce the cost of its drug as much as its competitors and claimed that health care workers often could not receive Viracept from local distributors at the reduced price Roche had pledged. According to the Journal, governments and humanitarian groups will receive the new discount by buying Viracept directly from Roche's headquarters instead of through local suppliers. The drug maker also announced that it would sell the antiretroviral drug Invirase, a protease inhibitor known generically as saquinavir, at cost; the drug maker currently sells the drug at "near-cost" prices, according to the Journal. Roche will add additional fees for shipping, taxes and distribution to the price of both drugs, a move that could increase the drug's cost by 20%, according to Daniel Berman, a spokesperson for Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian organization. Berman added that competitors such as Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb do not charge the additional fees. David Reddy, head of Roche's HIV products and disease strategy, said that the company is not including the additional costs onto the drug's listed price because the cost of shipping and taxes varies greatly among countries (Fuhrmans/Zimmerman, Wall Street Journal, 2/13).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.