Merck’s Discounted Antiretroviral Drug Efavirenz Not Approved for Use in Many Developing Countries
More than one year after Merck announced it would offer its antiretroviral drug Stocrin at a price of 95 cents per day in developing countries, the drug has not received approval for sale in many of those countries, the Wall Street Journal reports (Zimmerman, Wall Street Journal, 3/3). Merck in October 2002 announced it would offer a new 600 mg, once-a-day version of Stocrin, which is also known as efavirenz, at a price of 95 cents per day in developing nations, making the drug 30% less expensive than the company's earlier 200 mg version, which must be taken three times daily (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/23/02). However, the company still has not obtained government approval to sell the newer version of the drug in South Africa, Nigeria, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia, among other countries. Merck said that the drug's approval has been hampered by bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles, according to the Journal. Advocacy and treatment group Medecins San Frontieres has asked the company to step up its effort to get the drug approved or lower the price of the older 200 mg version until the new version is more widely available, the Journal reports. Merck spokesperson Jeffrey Sturchio said that the drug was either approved or available through "other regulatory mechanisms" in 13 of the 23 countries where MSF operates. He added that Merck cannot reduce the price of the older version because the company already sells the drug at cost, according to the Journal. Under an agreement with Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb sells efavirenz under the brand name Sustiva in Canada, France, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States (Wall Street Journal, 3/3).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.