There’s a new HIV drug – but Africa will have to wait

Thursday, August 15, 2013

This week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its approval of dolutegravir, a new HIV medicine made by ViiV, a joint venture between pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKlein and Japanese company Shionogi. It will be sold under the brand name Tivicay. The drug forms part of a class of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) called integrase inhibitors, which work by interfering with one of the enzymes the HI-virus needs to multiply.

The FDA says that a 50mg dose of the drug should be taken once or twice daily, with or without food, and can be used in patients who have never been treated before, as well as those who have developed resistance to other ARVs. It can also be used in children over the age of 12 who weigh 40kgs or more. According to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the drug will likely be used as a first-line HIV drug (the most effective treatment with the fewest side effects) in the developed world. The Treatment Action Campaign said dolutegravir “could potentially become a vital drug in the global struggle against HIV”.

But in a statement released Tuesday, MSF warned that dolutegravir may not be easily available in poorer countries. While David Daley, spokesperson for GlaxoSmithKline, says that ViiV grants voluntary licenses to some generic companies, allowing them to produce cheaper versions of their patented products, these licenses only allow countries that are considered low-income or least-developed, or located within sub-Saharan Africa, to access the cheaper drugs.

Middle-income countries, on the other hand, are subject to “tiered-pricing” of the patented product, with prices set on a sliding scale depending on a country’s gross domestic product and disease burden. As such, MSF says that some may be unable to afford the drug. “We are deeply concerned that ViiV’s business strategy will result in dolutegravir being priced out of reach in countries excluded from ViiV’s licensing deals,” says Rohit Malpani, director of policy and analysis at MSF’s Access Campaign. “We have seen in the past excluded countries are left paying exorbitant prices.”

Source: Mail & Guardian (link opens in a new window)

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