Merck Slashes Price of AIDS Drugs in Brazil

Pharmaceutical giant Merck has decided to cut the prices of two AIDS drugs in Brazil, after the Brazilian government threatened to manufacture their own generic version of one of the medicines, the New York Times reports.

The announcement by the Brazilian government last week also was intended to put pressure on Hoffman-La Roche, the prescription drug unit of the Switzerland-based Roche Group, which sells the anti-HIV protease inhibitor nelfinavir under the brand name Viracept. So far the Brazilian government's talks with the company have been unsuccessful.

Using the United Nations Human Development Index, a ranking of countries' life expectancies, Merck compiled a list of nations that would qualify for its lowest price on the AIDS drug efavirenz, which is sold in the U.S. under the brand name Sustiva and elsewhere as Stocrin. The drug will be offered at the same price, approximately $920 per patient per year — versus $4,700 a year in the U.S — in a number of other countries, including Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Costa Rica.

Merck's decision came hours before President Bush was to meet with Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. In an interview with the Times earlier this month, Cardoso noted that Brazil "had raised this banner because it is a cause that has to do with the very survival of some countries, especially the poor ones of Africa. This is a political and moral issue, a truly dramatic situation, that has to be viewed realistically and can't be solved just by the market."

Melody Petersen. "Maker Agrees to Cut Price of Two AIDS Drugs in Brazil" New York Times 03/31/2001.