[Top] [All Lists]

AFRO-NETS> Bristol-Myers makes AIDS drugs more accessible to Africans

Bristol-Myers makes AIDS drugs more accessible to Africans

The Philadelphia Inquirer
Thursday, March 15, 2001
Bristol-Myers makes AIDS drugs more accessible to Africans

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 re-
sponse to demands to make the drugs more affordable on the continent
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
drug makers to do so. "We seek no profits on AIDS drugs in Africa, and
we will not let our patents be an obstacle," John L. McGoldrick, execu-
tive vice president of Bristol-Myers Squibb, said in a statement from
the company's New York headquarters. 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 $328 million. In
1998, those royalties were $40 million.

Bristol-Myers yesterday offered Zerit and another anti-retroviral used
in AIDS combination therapy, ddi, for a total of $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 Borders, 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 today." Last week, Merck & Co. said it would reduce
prices on two AIDS drugs in Africa to $500 and $600 a year, matching of-
fers by an Indian generic 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 further 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 cam-
paigned 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 production of pat-
ented medicines in the case of a national emergency. Activists 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 in-
fected with HIV. Bristol-Myers also said it would expand its philan-
thropic Secure the Future program by $15 million, to $115 million.

Contact Susan Warner

Cecilia Snyder Senior
Project Associate Communications Consortium
Media Center 1200
New York Ave
NW Suite 300
Washington DC 20005-1754
Communicating for Change 

Send mail for the `AFRO-NETS' conference to `'.
Mail administrative requests to `'.
For additional assistance, send mail to:  `'.

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>