Indian firm gets nod to import AIDS drug

June 5, 2008

Indian firm gets nod to import AIDS drug

Tamar Kahn
Science and Health Editor

CAPE TOWN Pharmaceutical giant Mercks South African subsidiary, Merck Sharpe & Dohme (MSD), has granted licences to the local operations of Indian firm Aurobindo and Enalani subsidiary Cipla-Medpro to import generic versions of its AIDS drug, efavirenz.

This has prompt ed the Competition Commission to conclude there was no reason to refer the Treatment Action Campaigns (TACs) complaint that MSD engaged in anti-competitive practices to the Competition Tribunal.

The development is important because it means the government will have more efavirenz suppliers to choose from when it issues its next AIDS drug tender, expected this month.

It also highlights the effectiveness of the TACs strategy of using SAs competition law to pressure multinational firms to allow more generic competitors to enter the AIDS drug market.

Efavirenz is a key antiretroviral in the governments treatment programme, and is provided to about 70% of patients on first-line therapy. When the government issued its first AIDS drug tender three years ago, MSD was the sole bidder to supply efavirenz. The drug was the most expensive antiretroviral procured in the contract.

TAC, SAs biggest AIDS activist group, lodged a complaint against MSD with the commission late last year, arguing that the company was stifling competition because it had granted only one licence to a generic manufacturer, Aspen Pharmacare. TAC also said the licence terms were unreasonably restrictive, as they did not allow Aspen to co-package generic efavirenz with other drugs or include it in pills combining more than one drug.

Since then, MSD has issued a second licence to local generic manufacturer Adcock Ingram, and two licences to generic importers. It has also expanded the terms of the licences to allow generic firms to sell co-packaged and combination pills.

In light of these recent developments, the Competition Commission told the TAC there was no reason to refer the matter to the Competition Tribunal, said Jonathan Berger, a senior researcher with the AIDS Law Project, which acted on behalf of the activists. The TAC had also decided not to refer the matter to the tribunal, he said.

We now have four competitors on the market to MSD on terms that we are largely satisfied with. It doesnt make sense to pursue this any more.

Under the terms of the expanded licences, MSDs competitors may sell generic efavirenz in both the public and private sectors, and may export the drugs to countries such as Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho and Madagascar.

BUSINESS DAY 2nd June 2008

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