BOMBAY/LONDON - Indian generic drugmaker Cipla
Ltd. said Wednesday it would supply a triple-cocktail of AIDS
drugs to the world's poor at less than $1 a day, significantly
undercutting multinational companies.
The Indian group, which makes cheap copies of drugs that
are patent-protected in other countries, is offering the
medicines to international charity Medecins Sans Frontieres
(MSF) for $350 per year per patient and to governments for
``We are offering the drugs at a humanitarian price. Our
normal price -- at which we sell to wholesalers in India -- is
$1,200 per patient per year,'' Cipla Chairman Yusuf Hamied told
MSF said the offer showed its target of $200 per year was
almost within reach and called on Western pharmaceutical
companies to match the Cipla price.
The offer is aimed primarily at Africa, where
antiretroviral drugs commonly used in the West are out of reach
of virtually all the 25.3 million people infected with the HIV
virus . The same drug cocktail would cost $10,400 per year in
the United States.
Leading drug companies have recently negotiated discount
deals of 60-90 percent with Senegal, Uganda and Rwanda under a
United Nations initiative -- but that still leaves their
products at a premium to Cipla's offer.
MSF said Senegal was currently paying $1,008 to $1,821 per
year for combination therapy.
Cipla, India's third largest drug company by sales, is
offering the three drugs stavudine, lamivudine and nevirapine.
U.S. firm Bristol-Myers Squibb holds the patent on stavudine,
or Zerit, in much of the world; Britain's GlaxoSmithKline has
patents on lamivudine, or Epivir; and Boeringher Ingelheim of
Germany owns the patent on nevirapine, or Viramune.
Indian drug firms are allowed by local laws to make drugs
that are under patent elsewhere in the world, providing they
use a process that differs from the original patented process.
Hamied said the special prices only applied to MSF and to
governments backed by MSF. However, the charity said this
requirement was not practical or necessary and asked Cipla to
make its offer directly to governments and U.S. agencies.
Pressure On Drug Majors
Cipla's move puts further pressure on multinational firms
-- who have patchy patent protection in the developed world --
to cut their prices further. However, industry analysts
predicted the majors would not be rushing into a price war.
``There is an economic price under which they are not going
to go and it looks as though the price Cipla is offering is
substantially lower than anything the majors could do it for,''
said Martin Hall of stockbroker HSBC Securities in London.
Phil Thomson, spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline, said the
pharmaceutical giant welcomed initiatives that improved drug
access but was skeptical about the Cipla deal.
``It would appear that the offer is a partial donation and
the price is below cost, so we would question the
sustainability of supply,'' he said.
AIDS activists have been fighting a campaign for the past
two years to force drug companies to cut prices and accuse the
industry of dragging its feet -- a view shared by some
South Africa, which has the largest number of HIV
infections, is on a collision course with drug firms.
A group of more than 40 firms are taking Pretoria to court,
arguing that its plan to promote the importation or local
manufacture of generic AIDS drugs infringes their intellectual
property rights. The case is due to be heard in March.
Brazil, too, has clashed with the companies in a case which
has sucked in the U.S. government and World Trade Organization.
The Latin American country, which already makes generic
versions of several AIDS drugs, said last week it would start
producing a further two by June if prices on imported patented
medicines do not drop.
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