Chinese Firms Want to Make AIDS Drugs
November 15, 2001
Two Chinese companies seeking to take advantage of the nation's inconsistent patent laws have applied to produce AIDS drugs -- a development that could transform the way China battles the epidemic. Shanghai Desano Biopharmaceutical Co. has applied to the nation's State Drug Administration (SDA) to produce two generic AIDS drugs and plans to make AZT. Northeast General Pharmaceutical Factory has also applied to the government to make HIV medicine for domestic sale. The companies, which already manufacture and export raw materials used to make AIDS drugs in markets like Brazil and India, could benefit from loopholes in Chinese law that allow generic makers to copy patented drugs.
Both companies see a market in China's HIV-positive population -- estimated at 600,000 and growing at 30 percent annually -- most of whom cannot afford patented drugs costing at least $10,000 a year. "We can produce everything an HIV person needs for $400 a year," said Li Jinliang, deputy general manager of Shanghai Desano, who added that he expects a decision from the SDA by next June. The SDA did not respond to requests for comment.
Though China's AIDS problem has exploded in recent years, only a tiny number of patients there take AIDS drugs. Spokespersons for both GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb said the companies have very few AIDS drug customers in China. The lack of treatment is one reason some Chinese doctors do not even encourage people at risk to be tested. "If you tell them and there's no treatment, they may commit suicide or turn against society," said psychiatrist Li Jianhua. The launch of affordable, generic AIDS drugs could open choices for the Chinese, challenging the view among doctors and patients that AIDS is a death sentence.
Wall Street Journal
11.15.01; Leslie Chang
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.