November 10, 2009
On Nov. 3, drug makers Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline officially launched their joint HIV venture, a company called ViiV Healthcare. Some observers hail the effort as a way of sharing the business risks and costs of drug development. Others are wary it may precede a complete withdrawal from a HIV drug market under pricing pressures, though GSK officials deny any "exit strategy."
"By being 100 percent dedicated to HIV, we will reach more patients and do much more than either company on its own, with more products, more outreach and more focus," said Dominique Limet, CEO of ViiV.
ViiV combines GSK's well-established line of HIV medicines with Pfizer's portfolio, which includes many drugs still in development. With its own drugs moving toward the point at which their patents will expire, GSK's participation in the venture can boost its sales, marketing, and manufacturing. Pfizer can tap into GSK's infrastructure as it refocuses energies and cuts costs. In addition, a smaller, focused company can fuel innovation by allowing "nimbler responses," Limet said.
Some advocates, however, wonder whether the joint venture is to be sold off, with GSK and Pfizer following Roche's lead in leaving the HIV market. For instance, ViiV is not approaching third parties about combining treatments -- an approach taken by its competitor and HIV drug market leader, Gilead. Atripla is a combination treatment of drugs owned by Gilead and Bristol-Myers Squibb. When asked, Limet said there are no current talks with other partners to license their therapies, nor is ViiV seeking external funders or non-executive directors from outside the parent companies.
"We want to know if they're trying to spin off a less profitable line to focus on more lucrative targets," said Mark Herrington, head of New York-based Treatment Action Group. "We'd love to be proved wrong here. With ever earlier recommendations to treat HIV, novel compounds for treatment and prevention are urgently needed."