Pfizer agrees to lower price of HIV drug amid knockdown battle with Gilead Sciences

Pfizer Inc. has agreed to allow lower prices on its newest top-selling AIDS medication, moving quickly to expand market access while being on a collision course with the powerful pharmaceutical company.

The agreement could pave the way for cheaper versions of the medicine to be made around the world and greatly expand access to the drug known as the microbicide, which can help prevent infection by some HIV-infected women. The drug is already available in the United States for $35 for 100 pills at the pharmacy counter.

“This is a milestone that demonstrates Pfizer’s continued commitment to respond to the needs of people around the world and to realize an end to AIDS,” said Deborah Dunsire, president of Pfizer Essential Health.

The microbicide is known as dolutegravir and is marketed as Anbex in the United States, Eliquis, Tivicay and Truvada outside the United States. The company would also make the drug available to free through its Access to Effective Antiretroviral Medication Project that provides the medicine free of charge to low-income patients with HIV.

The microbicide is designed to prevent infection by preventing the transfer of the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. Gilead Sciences Inc. has developed a better version of a microbicide called tenofovir called Truvada.

While the announcement by Pfizer was hailed as a breakthrough, corporate social responsibility experts cautioned that cutting prices still did not solve the affordability issue.

“It will allow physicians to make purchases for private insurance coverage in the U.S., or patients to purchase it on their own; it doesn’t make it completely free and it doesn’t solve the affordability of the product on a global basis,” said Scott Lillibridge, chief executive of Cure. It is also not clear that the company will move quickly to develop other versions of the drug abroad or to set other prices.

The microbicide did not enjoy the same prominence as the groundbreaking pharmaceutical discovery of the AIDS drug AZT in the 1980s. The New York-based company has spent years developing the drug as a potential HIV cure and treatment. But some analysts say it could hold promise as a way to lower transmission rates.

The drug, dolutegravir, is a long-acting antiretroviral that can block the HIV virus from replicating. Half of global AIDS deaths are now in sub-Saharan Africa, where the drug will be first introduced.

Pfizer agreed to lower the price of dolutegravir in high-income countries as part of a larger deal to keep the drug off the U.S. government’s list of approved drugs. The FDA approved the drug in December 2014.

The drug has only been approved for the treatment of HIV for people with immune disorders including immune-compromised cirrhosis or HIV patients who had received antiretroviral therapy before they developed immune disorders.

The company also agreed to give free access to the drug to at least 6 million people over the next five years. It is also donating $100 million in products and service and paid royalties of 5 percent on sales to pay for the deal.

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