Election Section

AIDS medicine may be sold below cost to Africa

The Associated Press
Friday March 16, 2001

NEW YORK — Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. says it will sell a second AIDS medication at below cost to African countries, a decision hailed by activists who have been urging drug makers to drastically reduce prices in poverty-stricken nations. 

The action, announced Wednesday, comes on the heels of an announcement by Merck and Co. that the drug maker will sell its two key AIDS drugs – Crixivan and Stocrin – to poor countries for about a 10th the U.S. price. 

Bristol-Myers said it will make AIDS drugs Videx and Zerit available to any African country for $1 a day for the two drugs, compared with $1.60 before. Videx’s price was unchanged at 85 cents – Bristol-Myers said it had already been reduced to below cost – and the daily cost of Zerit was cut from 75 cents to 15 cents. 

In the United States, the same drugs sell for about $18 a day. 

The company also said its patent rights for Zerit, which are owned jointly by Bristol-Myers and Yale University, will be waived in South Africa, which would open the market to generic versions from other companies. Bristol-Myers said it has no other patent rights elsewhere in Africa involving AIDS therapies. 

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. Unlike in wealthier Western countries, the vast majority of the developing world’s people infected with the virus have no access to life-prolonging AIDS medication and will die from the debilitating effects of the disease. 

“This is not about profits and patents; it’s about poverty and a devastating disease,” said John L. McGoldrick, Bristol-Myers executive vice president. “We seek no profits on AIDS drugs in Africa, and we will not let our patents be an obstacle.” 

The Treatment Action Campaign, a South African AIDS activist group, called the decision a major victory. 

“This victory has come about as a result of the global effort by HIV/AIDS activists,” the organization said. “The pressure has become too much for (Bristol-Myers) and they are relenting.” 

The group also called on Bristol-Myers to drop out of a lawsuit it has filed with other drug companies in South Africa to keep generic-drug makers from making copycat medicines. 

Company executives said the lawsuit was needed because it applies to all prescription drugs. 

Bristol-Myers said it would offer the drugs through its existing partnerships with UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund. 

Merck’s Crixivan sells for about $6,016 annually per patient in the United States, but will be sold to developing nations for about $600 per patient per year.  

Stocrin will be sold for about $500 per patient per year, instead of the $4,730 it costs in the United States. 

On the Net: 

Bristol-Myers: http://www.bms.com 

Merck: http://www.merck.com