US foundation bars GlaxoSmithKline representatives over AIDS drug pricing

GlaxoSmithKline Plc., Europe’s biggest drug maker, was embroiled in a fresh row over the cost of AIDS medicines after a US group barred GSK sales representatives from its clinics.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) said the British-based company, the world’s largest supplier of antiretroviral drugs, was charging twice as much for its drugs in the developing world as other pharmaceutical companies.

“Glaxo’s actions have put it outside the bounds of corporate responsibility,” Michael Weinstein, president of the largest provider of specialised HIV medical care in the United States, said in a statement.

GSK has been at the centre of controversy over the cost of AIDS drugs since taking a leading role in a landmark court case last year to prevent South Africa from importing cut-price medicines. The suit was ultimately abandoned by GSK and 38 other firms.

AHF said GSK’s combination therapy products could slash the mortality rate from AIDS in developing countries but the price being charged was far too high, at almost $2000 per patient per year. It called for the cost to be reduced to $500.

GSK said it had led the way in cutting AIDS drug prices in Africa in 1997, adding it was no longer making a profit on selling AIDS medicines in the world’s least-developed countries.

But the AHF argued the company could afford to do more to bring down costs, especially since its two leading AIDS drugs—Combivir (lamivudine/zidovudine) and Trizivir (lamivudine/zidovudine/abacavir)—were simply reformulations of existing products that did not require costly research and development.

In addition to its work in the US, AHF operates two free AIDS treatment clinics in South Africa and Uganda.

“We are disappointed that attempts to partner with AHF have broken down and that AHF has reacted in this way as a result,” GSK spokesman Alan Chandler said.

Source: Reuters Health

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