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Glaxo Freezes Prices of AIDS Drugs in United States

June 21, 2002

Acknowledging the budget constraints of many state programs that help people with little or no health insurance afford AIDS drugs, GlaxoSmithKline said yesterday that it was freezing the American prices of its six AIDS drugs through January 2004. The freeze includes its most widely prescribed AIDS medicine, Combivir. An individual might pay about $18 a day for Combivir -- an annual cost of $6,600. Companies typically raise the prices of these drugs roughly 5 percent a year. The company's decision follows a similar move by Pfizer recently to freeze the price of two of its AIDS drugs, Viracept and Rescriptor, for two years.

With the bulk of their funds from the federal government, state and local AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs) were created in 1987 and were incorporated in the Ryan White AIDS legislation in 1990. Last year, these programs provided drugs -- some of which can cost as much as $12,000 a year -- to 140,000 people. In June 2001 alone, according to a recent report, these programs filled a total of 246,062 prescriptions for 76,743 individuals at a cost of $63.8 million.

As more people use these programs and the price of the drugs increase, many programs are struggling to meet demand, according to the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors in Washington. Ten states have established waiting lists or are otherwise limiting access. While the Bush administration has proposed keeping the funds in 2003 at $619 million, a coalition of AIDS groups has estimated that the programs need an additional $162 million, said Murray Penner, an alliance program manager.

Many states are also having difficulty finding money in their budgets to pay for the programs. Hundreds of people are on waiting lists, including 550 in North Carolina and 220 in Alabama, according to GlaxoSmithKline. The company says a sustainable system is necessary to finance these programs. Glaxo's decision "is a step in the direction drug companies need to be going," Penner said.

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Excerpted from:
New York Times
06.21.02; Reed Abelson

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