Roche To Stop Antiretroviral Research, Company Says
Pharmaceutical company Roche in a memo circulated last week announced that it will stop research on antiretroviral drugs because of "disappointing results in clinical trials," the Financial Times reports. According to the memo, which was sent to HIV/AIDS specialists and advocates, Roche has canceled its program to research compounds that were targeting two different ways to attack HIV. The company stressed that it will continue to manufacture its current antiretrovirals -- Fuzeon, Viracept and Invirase -- as well as its HIV diagnostic test and other treatments related to the disease.
According to the Times, the move to abandon research on antiretrovirals reflects the company's decision to focus on drugs that provide "significant improvement" to existing medicines available from competitors. It also marks an "important setback for hopes" to develop new treatments for people living with HIV, especially as the number of HIV-positive people who become resistant to current antiretrovirals increases, the Times reports. Jenny Edge-Dallas of Roche's HIV department said, "While we had initially been hopeful about [the drugs'] potential, we now have concluded that none would provide a true incremental benefit for patients compared to medicines currently on the market" (Jack, Financial Times, 7/12).
Linda Dyson, a spokesperson in Roche's U.S. office in New Jersey, confirmed the memo. Dyson declined to specify how much the company had been investing in HIV research. She also said she could not specify how many employees worked in the HIV research division. James Love -- director of Knowledge Ecology International, an advocacy group that focuses on drug access -- said the decision reflects "the lack of productivity among the groups that [Roche has] working in this area," adding that "a lot of big pharma companies haven't been very impressive in terms of their big internal pipeline." Peter Staley -- founder of AIDSmeds.com, which tracks HIV-related news -- said Roche has never developed an antiretroviral that has sold very well. "Roche is a big company, and they've been trying to get this right for many, many years," Staley said, adding, "It is disappointing that there is one less big pharmaceutical company in this field. I don't think it's a sign of a serious problem in pharma's commitment" (Seetharaman, Reuters, 7/11).