Bristol-Myers makes AIDS drugs more accessible to Africans
The Philadelphia Inquirer -- Thursday, March 15, 2001
By Susan Warner, Inquirer Staff Writer
Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. yesterday said it would slash African prices
for two AIDS drugs and allow other manufacturers to produce copies of
the patented medicines in Africa. Bristol-Myers was the third major
pharmaceutical company to recently cut prices for its AIDS drugs in
response to demands to make the drugs more affordable on the conti-
nent hardest hit by AIDS. Bristol-Myers and Yale University, which
holds the patent on one of the drugs, was being pressured to sharply
reduce prices or allow generic drugmakers to do so. "We seek no prof-
its on AIDS drugs in Africa, and we will not let our patents be an
obstacle," John L. McGoldrick, executive vice president of Bristol-
Myers Squibb, said in a statement from the company's New York head-
Yale researchers discovered the drug, known as d4t or Zerit, in the
early 1990s and issued a license to Bristol-Myers to manufacture and
market it. In return, Yale receives royalties on the drug, which had
sales last year of US$ 328 million. In 1998, those royalties were US$
40 million. Bristol-Myers yesterday offered Zerit and another anti-
retroviral used in AIDS combination therapy, ddi, for a total of US$
1 a day. Bristol-Myers said that price was below its production
costs. In the United States, the two drugs cost up to $6,000 a year.
In recent weeks, Yale has come under pressure from a group of its law
students, working with the relief organization Doctors Without Bor-
ders, to force Bristol-Myers to make the drug more accessible. The
drug's principal inventor, William Prusoff, 80, and now semi-retired,
had spoken out on behalf of the students. "Yale worked diligently to
remove any obstacles created by its license agreement with BMS," Tom
Conroy, a Yale spokesman, said yesterday. "We are gratified that our
efforts paved the way for the significant action announced by BMS to-
Last week, Merck & Co. said it would reduce prices on two AIDS drugs
in Africa to $500 and $600 a year, matching offers by an Indian ge-
neric manufacturer. This year, GlaxoSmithKline, the world's largest
manufacturer of AIDS medicines, also promised to reduce the prices of
its drugs in Africa by 90 percent of what they cost in the United
States. But yesterday's Bristol-Myers announcement goes a step fur-
ther in addressing the issue of patents. The pharmaceutical industry
has insisted it must protect its patent rights. "I hope this shows
that Yale did some good work on this," said Amy Kapczynski, a first-
year law student at Yale who campaigned to change the university's
agreement with Bristol-Myers. "This shows that the solution is going
to involve relinquishing some patent rights," she said.
Other AIDS activists were cautious about the company's announcement.
"They are in the ballpark, but they are still in the stands," said
Kate Krauss, a spokeswoman for ACTUP Philadelphia. Krauss called on
Bristol-Myers and 38 other pharmaceutical manufacturers to drop a
lawsuit against a South African law that would permit generic produc-
tion of patented medicines in the case of a national emergency. Ac-
tivists argue that allowing production of generic copies is the best
way for African nations to develop a long-term supply of AIDS drugs.
Also yesterday, Bristol-Myers called on Western governments to assist
the fight against AIDS in Africa, home to 25 million of the world's
36 million people infected with HIV. Bristol-Myers also said it would
expand its philanthropic Secure the Future program by US$ 15 million,
to US$ 115 million.
Susan Warner's e-mail address is <email@example.com>
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