Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The price is right

The Price is Right Ben Goldacre in the Guardian.

"But the big unreported intellectual property issue from science this week is in Thailand, where there are more than half a million people living with HIV, and 120,000 have Aids, requiring treatment. First-line Aids drugs are becoming ineffective, as the virus becomes resistant, and so people need the expensive new drugs like Kaletra, made by the US drug company Abbott.

Fighting HIV with drugs is an incredibly clever field. Some work by blocking the molecular machinery that produces virus DNA. Kaletra is a “protease inhibitor“, and it works by blocking the activity of an enzyme called protease which cleaves proteins into smaller chunks which can then be assembled into a functioning HIV virus.

Abbott has been charging $2,200 (£1,100) a year for Kaletra in Thailand, which is - by macabre coincidence - roughly the same as the gross income per capita. I am no economist, but it seems to me that if you charge people’s entire annual income for a drug like that, then your customers will die.

Don’t pharmaceutical companies need to charge high fees, to recoup their research costs, and develop new ideas? Yes, they do, so let’s be fair. And if we’re going to be really fair, we might also mention that they spend twice as much on administration and advertising as they do on research.

So in January the Thai government put their hands up and announced they were going to use Abbott’s idea, and make Abbott’s drug, only for the country’s poor, in their own factories, to save lives. Abbott has retaliated by completely withdrawing its new heat-stable version of Kaletra from the Thai market and withdrawing six other new drugs from the country for good measure. It has refused to bring its products back to the Thai market until the government promises not to use a “compulsory license” on its drug ideas. To some this might seem on a par with taking hostages (or making them say sorry “like they mean it”)."

No comments: