Antiretrovirals Becoming More Profitable for Pharmaceutical Industry, Los Angeles Times Reports
Antiretroviral drugs are becoming a "growing profit center" for the pharmaceutical industry as treatment for HIV-positive people worldwide improves, the Los Angeles Times reports.
According to the Times, sales of antiretrovirals for Gilead Sciences, which sells antiretrovirals to about one half of all HIV-positive people taking drugs nationwide, reached $3.14 billion in 2007, an increase of 48% from 2006. Sales of all antiretrovirals are expected to increase from $6 billion in 2007 to $11 billion by 2015, according to Datamonitor.
The increase in antiretroviral profits is fueled in part by longer life expectancies for people living with HIV/AIDS and earlier treatment of the virus. HIV vaccine development has stalled and HIV/AIDS rates are increasing in some communities after being stabilized for years, the Times reports. In addition, once-daily antiretrovirals such as Truvada and Atripla have made the virus easier to treat and have helped increase treatment adherence.
According to the Times, Gilead's success in the antiretroviral market in part is because of its "foresight" in developing once-daily medications. Atripla -- which was introduced in 2006 and combines Gilead's antiretrovirals Viread and Emtriva with Bristol-Myers Squibb's antiretroviral Sustiva -- is the most prescribed medication for HIV-positive people beginning treatment in the U.S. The drug -- which costs about $1,300 monthly -- is expected to reach $1 billion in sales this year.
Gilead CEO John Martin said that many pharmaceutical companies were "scared off" from developing HIV treatment because of "political and assumed financial pressure." In addition, many companies did not believe antiretrovirals would be profitable because two-thirds of HIV-positive people live in developing countries in Africa, the Times reports. Homayoon Khanlou, a Los Angeles-based HIV expert, said once-daily antiretrovirals are a "milestone because of how easy they are to use." Martin added that Gilead "recognized" a "significant unmet medical need" in making HIV treatments easier to follow.
Some doctors have expressed concern that once-daily antiretrovirals could be responsible for a recent increase in cases as more people begin to view HIV/AIDS as a manageable, chronic illness. Khanlou said public health experts and the pharmaceutical industry should continue to warn people about the virus, adding, "We've made too much progress to start going back" (Costello, Los Angeles Times, 2/21).