January 29, 2010
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), one of the largest providers of HIV/AIDS care in the United States, announced Monday it will no longer allow sales representatives from Merck & Co. in its clinics.
"We've banned representatives from Merck Pharmaceuticals from calling on our physicians in our clinics, which is a common marketing strategy," said Ged Kinslea, communications director for AHF. "We are instituting this ban largely because of the egregious pricing policies for their key AIDS drug, Isentress."
According to AHF, the annual cost of Isentress for a US patient is $12,870. In Africa, the drug costs "about $1,100 per patient, per year and that's about 20 times more than other AIDS drugs in Africa," said Kinslea.
"The drug is a good drug, it has fewer side effects, but it is the single most expensive first-line antiretroviral treatment for AIDS available in the United States and the developing world," Kinslea noted.
Isentress was approved for sale on the US market in 2007 as a salvage -- or second-line -- therapy, for patients for whom other drugs have failed or those who have sought medical care in the late stages of the disease, said AHF. The Food and Drug Administration approved it last year as a first-line AIDS treatment, "but the pricing remains at the expensive, salvage-therapy price," said Kinslea.
In a statement, Merck called AHF's accusations false and said it has priced Isentress "responsibly after consultation with respected leaders in the HIV community."