AHF Targets HIV Drug Prices in the U.S., India
In wake of the FDA’s decision to approve Pfizer’s first-in-class HIV drug Selzentry, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has called on Pfizer and other drug companies to “show some restraint” when setting the prices of HIV medications.
Pfizer announced earlier this month that it will launch the newly approved Selzentry in mid-September. Selzentry (maraviroc), a CCR5 co-receptor antagonist, is approved to treat adults infected with detectable CCR5-tropic HIV-1 when there is evidence of viral replication and HIV-1 strains resistant to multiple antiretroviral agents.
According to the AHF, Pfizer’s planned price for Selzentry of $29 per patient per day is too high. “While we are excited by the treatment possibilities this drug offers, we have serious concerns on the price of this drug, and we ask that it be priced fairly so that people in need of such lifesaving medicines may actually benefit from them,” AHF President Michael Weinstein said.
A growing number of people in the U.S. with HIV or AIDS has placed a burden on the healthcare system, including the state-run AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, which are funded by the federal Ryan White CARE Act, the AHF said. The 2007 federal budget included only minor funding increases — not enough to keep up with the growing need, according to the AHF.
“Given the enormous profit that pharmaceutical companies reap by selling medications to government programs — by far the largest purchasers of drugs in this country — it is incumbent that drug companies work to help ensure that AIDS patients who are not able to access medications due to state and federal funding gaps still have access to such lifesaving treatments,” Weinstein said. “Fair and equitable pricing of these drugs from the outset is one way to achieve this goal.”
A Pfizer spokesman said the company disagrees with the AHF’s allegations that the Selzentry price is too high, saying the price is comparable to the prices of other HIV drugs, such as protease inhibitors. “We feel that Selzentry is an innovation in the treatment of HIV and provides clinical benefit to patients,” he said.
This is not the first time the AHF has targeted Pfizer. Last year the group sued the company over its marketing tactics for its erectile dysfunction drug Viagra (sildenafil citrate), saying the company promotes recreational use of the drug and contributes to increased incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. The group also banned Pfizer sales reps from its clinics.
The AHF has also announced the launch of a campaign targeting generic HIV drug pricing in India, beginning with drugmaker Cipla. The group ran an ad in several major Indian newspapers that reads, “Profit at What Cost? AIDS Drugs for All.” The AHF said it plans to also target other Indian companies, including Ranbaxy Laboratories, Emcure Pharmaceuticals and Aurobindo Pharma.
According to the AHF, Cipla is the world’s largest manufacturer of antiretroviral drugs by volume. The company charges less for the generic HIV drugs it exports to Africa than for the ones it sells in India, the group claims.
Viraday, Cipla’s generic formulation containing efavirenz, emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, costs more than twice as much in India than it does in Africa, according to the AHF. The group is asking Cipla to lower the drug’s price in India.
Cipla, in its reponse to the AHF’s allegations, said the group is “distorting facts and making baseless allegations.” The company said it does not sell Viraday in Africa. Furthermore, the HIV drugs that Cipla does sell in Africa are sold at the same prices as in India, the company said. — Breda Lund