Supply of AIDS Generics to Continue
People living with HIV in the world’s poorer countries depend upon cheap generic anti-retrovirals to fight off the disease, but the continued supply of generics has been in doubt as pharmaceuticals companies have pressed for greater protections for intellectual property.
Such worries sparked demonstrations in India, where much of the world’s supply of generic HIV medication is made, earlier this year.
But a new agreement between Gilead Sciences, a major manufacturer of HIV drugs, and the Medicines Patent Pool has brightened the prospects for a continuing supply of affordable generics for HIV patients in poorer nations, British newspaper The Guardian reported on July 12.
Gilead has agreed to add some of its medicines to the program, allowing those pharmaceuticals to be produced as generics in India for consumption around the world. Gilead has also agreed to allow its medicines to be included together with drugs made by other firms in generics that combine several medications into one tablet. So far, no other pharmaceuticals company has joined Gilead in participating in the program, though that remains a possibility.
But it may also one day be the case that Gilead medications will cover the needs of poorer nations by itself, the Guardian article suggested. The company "has agreed to let Indian manufacturers copy and combine not only two important licensed drugs, tenofovir and emtricitabine, but also two drugs that are still under clinical development and do not yet have a license, cobicistat and elvitegravir," the article said.
"Gilead is itself developing a single pill called the ’quad,’ which will combine all four drugs. Generics companies will also be allowed to start copying that too," added the article.
Tenofovir can also be used in gel form to help prevent the spread of HIV, the article said. Gilead has agreed to allow the drug to be produced generically in this form also.
"Other pharmaceutical companies now have no excuse for refusing to license their drugs to the pool," said Oxfam’s Mohga Kamai-Yanni. "Companies such as ViiV and Merck who are already in discussions with the pool need to get on board as quickly as possible to ensure the best possible medicines are made available to poor people at affordable prices.
"Others, such as Abbott, which have so far failed to engage at all with the pool should be ashamed of themselves and should start negotiations as soon as possible," added Kamai-Yanni.
The drugs that India manufactures have helped five million people living with HIV to maintain their health, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Frontiers).
"More than 80 percent of the AIDS drugs our medical practitioners use to treat 175,000 people in developing countries are affordable generics from India," MSF spokesperson Paul Cawthorne told the press earlier this year.
Cawthorne said that HIV patients were not the only ones to benefit from the lower cost of India-made generics. "Beyond AIDS, we rely on producers in India for drugs to treat other illnesses, such as tuberculosis and malaria."
Before the advent of generics, people in poorer nations were faced with the prospect of paying as much as people in wealthier nations do -- a cost that can exceed $10,000 per year. With generics, however, the prices became far more manageable: Only about $70 per year -- though even that is an astronomical sum for the world’s poorest.
Gilead Sciences is also the manufacturer of Truvada, a medication that was recently proven to reduce the risk of HIV transmission if taken as a preventative measure.