HIV/AIDS Advocates Concerned Possible High Cost of Fuzeon Could Block Access
Representatives from six federal- and state-funded AIDS Drug Assistance Programs yesterday were expected to meet with officials from Roche, maker of the new antiretroviral Fuzeon, to discuss the drug's cost, the Los Angeles Times reports (Richardson/Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 3/15). The FDA on Thursday approved the drug, which is designed for HIV/AIDS patients who have failed to respond to other medications and is the first drug in seven years that uses a new method to fight the virus. Fuzeon is in a new class of drugs called fusion inhibitors, which prevent the virus from entering cells by prohibiting the virus from attaching to cell membranes. Although Roche officials have said that they will not disclose the U.S. price of Fuzeon until closer to its launch date, the company says that it will fall within the range of the drug's price in Europe, which the company announced last month is about $20,000 per patient per year. Many AIDS advocates consider that to be a prohibitively high price for the drug (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/14).
Problematic Budget Restraints
Michael Montgomery, chief of the California Office of AIDS, said, "With the current budget restraints, we're concerned that (the state drug assistance program) doesn't have sufficient funding to continue our existing level of services. Adding a highly expensive drug is problematic" (Los Angeles Times, 3/15). Daniel Montoya, director of government affairs at AIDS Project Los Angeles, said, "Neither the federal government nor the state is willing or able to appropriate the money we need to make sure everyone who needs these drugs can get them" (APLA release, 3/14). AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein said that Fuzeon's "exorbitant price" has "put the entire issue of AIDS drug pricing squarely under the microscope," adding, "If just 15% of California's ADAP patients were on Fuzeon, they would use up more than half of the current entire yearly California ADAP budget -- more than $75 million" (AIDS Healthcare Foundation release, 3/14). Dwayne Haught, manager of the Texas ADAP, said, "Nothing would make me happier than to provide this for our clients. But that price tag -- I'm just shocked. I don't see how we could do it" (Meckler, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 3/14). Lei Chou, director of the AIDS Treatment Data Network's Access Project who has met with Roche officials and attended a presentation on the drug, said that the company has tried "to convince the community that they're willing to work with us, telling us how they were intending to price this drug as part of a whole chain of research instead of wanting to recoup their investment on this drug alone. Now we see it's about dollars" (Los Angeles Times, 3/17). Analysts said that with this pricing, the companies could begin to make a profit on the drug in three years -- much less than the industry average of 16 years (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/13).