Opportunistic Infections

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Price of key drug slashed in face of TAC pressure (Amphofericin B)

By Emily Goligoski

A medication described as the most effective in treating a type of meningitis that can be fatal for people with HIV/Aids is soon to be available for a sixth of its price today.

From July 1, Bristol-Myers Squibb's drug Amphofericin B is to be priced at R22.60 for a vial instead of between R145 and R190, before VAT. It is used to treat cryptococcal meningitis, an opportunistic infection that is virulent in people with HIV/Aids.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has been working since February to get the cost of the drug, marketed as Fungizone, reduced after complaining that it is priced excessively in South Africa.The campaign was a combined effort with the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre and the Aids Law Project, which threatened to bring legal action against Bristol-Myers Squibb unless the price was cut.

"The price reduction was relatively quick and it made sense for (the company) to act right away because of the extent of blatant overpricing," said TAC spokesman Nathan Geffen.

Company general manager Michael Barry said the drug was produced at overseas plants at different costs.

The company has been talking to the Medicines Control Council (MCC) and the TAC since March and is awaiting the MCC's approval for sourcing and price changes.

Barry said the company was reducing the price because it was committed to expanding drug access to HIV/Aids patients who need it most.

Tihana Bicanic, a specialist in infectious diseases at the GF Jooste Hospital in Manenberg, said there was no data on the South African incidence of cryptococcal meningitis, but 13% to 44% of patients died. Even with optimum treatment, in the US up to 25% of people died.

Bicanic said Amphofericin B killed harmful organisms faster than another drug on the market. It is the first choice for hospitals that can give it. It required intravenous injection and in-patient treatment for seven days. Bicanic emphasised that, if the drug was to be effective, hospitals needed facilities to administer it.

(Published on the web by Cape Times on May 24, 2005)


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