Company to offer AZT at steep discount to Third World
In this story:
March 5, 1998
Web posted at: 7:33 p.m. EST (0033 GMT)
ATLANTA (CNN) -- The company that makes AZT, the first approved medication for HIV infections, offered Thursday to sell the drug at a steep discount for use in developing countries to reduce the infection rate among mothers and newborn children.
The offer by Glaxo Wellcome PLC is the first time a major drug company has cut the price of an AIDS drug in order to get it to the developing nations most affected by the disease.
About 600,000 children worldwide died of AIDS contracted from their mothers last year.
The announcement comes two weeks after a study in Thailand revealed that a small dose of AZT administered for three weeks before birth reduced transmission of the AIDS virus from infected mothers to their newborns by 50 percent.
Officials from UN-AIDS, an agency of the United Nations, urged Glaxo Wellcome PLC to offer such a discount after the study was released.
The agency issued a statement after Glaxo-Wellcome's announcement, calling it "an important step in efforts to reduce the mother-to-child transmission of HIV in the developing world, where 90 percent of the people with HIV live."
AZT, which is known generically as zidovidine and marketed under the name Retrovir, has been routinely prescribed for HIV-positive pregnant women in industrialized countries for three years.
Company feels an 'obligation'
Studies in 1994 showed that the drug could reduce HIV transmission from mothers to infants by two-thirds, but the regimen used in the United States is both technically impractical and too costly for developing countries.
But the Thailand study shows that a simpler approach can also work, and Glaxo spokesman Peter Young told CNN the company feels an "obligation" to make the drug more widely available.
Young said the company will work with public health agencies to discount AZT by 65 percent to 75 percent of the standard wholesale price.
Young said Glaxo-Wellcome does not regard its decision as "charity" -- the company will continue to make a profit, albeit a smaller one -- but as an ethically sound undertaking.
The combined effect of prescribing the short-course treatment along with the discount price reduces the cost of treating a single pregnant woman from $800 to $1,000 -- the typical U.S. cost -- to around $70.
Public health officials say that even $70 may be too expensive for some countries, but they hope that special funding might be found, given the benefits of the treatment.
Glaxo is also experimenting with another drug, called 3TC and sold as Epivir, and indicated that if it proves effective in halting maternal transmission, a discount would be offered on it as well.
'New hope to HIV-infected'
Mark Harrington of the AIDS Treatment Action Group said the company's move "brings new hope to HIV-infected people everywhere. Hopefully, other AIDS drugs manufacturers will follow Glaxo's lead."
Harrington said: "More than 1,600 infants are infected with HIV every day and more than 500,000 are born with HIV each year, most of them in the developing world."
UN-AIDS said Thursday it will work with Glaxo on a pilot program in Chile, Ivory Coast, Uganda and Vietnam.
Young said the drug should be available within a matter of weeks or, at most, a few months. He also said the company plans to take a role in patient education and on-going research into better ways of reducing maternal-fetal HIV transmission.
Reuters contributed to this report.