India-based drug manufacturer Cipla Ltd. announced Wednesday that it will begin offering generic triple-antiretroviral drug cocktails at a cost of less than $1 a day to the world’s poor AIDS sufferers, significantly undercutting the prices charged by major pharmaceutical companies. The company, which makes generic versions of medications protected by patents in other countries, is offering a year’s supply of the anti-HIV drugs stavudine (d4T), lamivudine (3TC), and nevirpaine (Viramune) to the international charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) for $350 per person and to world governments at a rate of $600 per person. The same drug cocktail would cost $10,400 per year in the United States. The offer is aimed primarily at Africa, where antiretroviral drugs are unaffordable for virtually all the estimated 25.3 million people there infected with HIV. Leading drug companies have recently negotiated discount deals of 60% to 90% for their antiretroviral medications in some African countries, but that still leaves their products priced higher than Cipla’s offer. Local laws allow Indian drug firms to make drugs that are under patent elsewhere in the world, providing they use a manufacturing process that differs from the original’s patented process.
Cipla’s move puts further pressure to slash prices on multinational drug firms that are already fighting against the overseas manufacture of generic versions of their products in South Africa and Brazil, The Washington Post reports. A group of more than 40 pharmaceutical firms is challenging South Africa’s plan to promote the importation or local manufacture of generic AIDS drugs, claiming it would infringe on intellectual property rights. The suit against the government is scheduled to be heard in the Pretoria High Court in March. Brazil is facing a similar clash with drugmakers, which in the past few months has sucked in the U.S. government and the World Trade Organization. The Latin American country, which already makes and markets generic versions of seven AIDS drugs, plans to also start producing efavirenz (Sustiva) and nelfinavir (Viracept) by June if prices on imported patented medicines do not drop. “The prices of these drugs are beyond the realm of this world,” said Paulo Teixeira, director of Brazil’s national health program. “What we desperately need is a global negotiation over the prices of these medicines.” The U.S. government in January asked the WTO to create a dispute panel, akin to a world trade court, to address Brazil’s current and planned manufacture of generic medications. A decision by the panel isn’t expected until June at the earliest.