Manufacturer lowers prices for two HIV-treatment drugs

The Associated Press
Thursday March 08, 2001

WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. — Pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck & Co. announced that it will drastically lower prices for two HIV-treatment drugs in developing countries. 

In a statement Wednesday, the company said it will not profit when selling the two protease-inhibitor drugs in developing countries, including sub-Saharan Africa. 

More than 25 million of the 36 million people infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa, one of the world’s most impoverished regions. Other developing countries would be evaluated for the reduced-price program on a case-by-case basis, company spokesman Greg Reaves said. 

Reaves said the company is looking in particular at “those countries where clearly the disease is most devastating, and also where economic conditions are devastating.” 

Merck makes Crixivan and Stocrin, which reduce HIV infection in the body and can be used alone or in standard AIDS cocktails. 

Crixivan will be sold in developing countries for $600 a year per patient; Stocrin will be sold for $500 per patient. The cost of the drugs in the United States was not immediately available Wednesday morning, but Reaves said he believed it was as much as five to 10 times higher. 

Whitehouse Station-based Merck and other drug companies have come under sharp criticism from various governments and relief groups, which accuse them of keeping patented lifesaving medicines beyond the reach of the world’s poor. 

“The reason we did this is we’re trying to speed the process of access to these medicines,” Reaves said. “We thought it would now spur other entities to get involved.” 

Merck said the treatments will be available at a reduced price to governments, relief agencies and others who can provide them to patients, on the condition that the drugs be used only in the countries where they are sold. 

The announcement comes amid a lawsuit in South Africa filed by a group representing many of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, including Merck. The lawsuit by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association seeks to overturn a law that would allow the South African government to import cheap generic medications in an emergency. 

Reaves said the lawsuit in South Africa will not affect the program announced Wednesday. 

The company also announced Wednesday that it will contribute $50 million over five years to the Botswana Comprehensive AIDS/HIV Partnership. The amount matches a contribution from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 


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