Independant On-Line, Local firms set to produce anti-Aids drug, 26 January 2004

By Di Caelers

Local pharmaceutical giant MSD appears set to allow local generic pharmaceutical manufacturers to produce its patented anti-Aids drugs.

They will follow counterparts GlaxoSmithKline and Boehringer Ingelheim if they go ahead as expected.

The news follows last week's fracas between Aids activist group the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and MSD over a shortage in South Africa of efavirenz, used to treat HIV infection in children older than three.

Although neither party was willing to divulge details yet about plans for a generic equivalent to be produced in South Africa, MSD chief executive Chirfi Guindo said they were "in discussions with potential candidates".

'The two would be in a position to make a joint statement'
The TAC's Mark Heywood said the two would be in a position to make a joint statement in a few weeks.

The controversy blew up last week when the TAC claimed in a letter released to the media that the shortage of efavirenz, marketed here under the brand name Stocrin, had led to at least one youngster defaulting on treatment for four days.

Guindo responded that there was a brief period during which their Midrand factory was out of stock, "but it was never a total out-of-stock situation in the distribution chain".

During a meeting with the TAC on Friday he had emphasised how important it was they be "kept in the loop" over new treatment programmes to avoid a repetition.

Heywood said Guindo had made two commitments:

A system where MSD would have two months' advance supply in the factory.

A contact person would be decided on who could be contacted in an emergency if a similar situation arose.

Last week TAC head Zackie Achmat said the serious consequence of stock shortages was that resistance to a particular anti-retroviral medicine could develop if patients did not take their medication as prescribed, daily and on time.

Achmat also called for MSD to immediately allow generic manufacturers to produce the drug to eliminate the possibility of such shortages, or stop enforcing the patent on the drug in sub-Saharan Africa.

Both the TAC and MSD described their meeting last week as "useful and frank".

Guindo said they took very seriously the issue of shortages, and given the company's track record, running out of stock should never happen.

"We are not opposed to voluntary licensing, of Stocrin specifically and are in discussions with potential candidates in South Africa."

This article was originally published on page 7 of The Cape Argus on January 26, 2004




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