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HIV/AIDS News Digest: March 4, 2011

By Kellee Terrell

March 4, 2011

Here's a quick look at a few HIV/AIDS stories recently reported in the media:

"New Bill Aims to Curb Rising HIV Rates" (From The Minnesota Independent)

Last week, Minnesota State Senators Scott Dibble, John Marty and Sandy Pappas -- all Democrats -- introduced SF 466, a new bill that would create the state's first-ever HIV educational campaign.

Apparently, the state could use some HIV 101. Minnesota's current HIV rates are the highest they've been in the past 17 years, mirroring those of the early '90s. Amy Brugh, public policy director for the Minnesota AIDS Project, feels that people in her state do not understand basic information about HIV such as transmission and risk factors. She told The Minnesota Independent, "In conversations with people there's a lot of misinformation. For example, we get a lot of calls about saliva being a risk. It's not."

It's hard to believe that Minnesota, given the size of the state, has never had a statewide HIV campaign before -- so better late than never of course. But given the current state deficit, will the state make HIV a priority? We sure hope so.

"Studies in Post-Menopausal Women Reveal Potentially Higher Biological HIV Risk, as Well as Possible Tenofovir Concerns" (From TheBodyPRO.com)

This week, two studies have shone a little light into the dark corners of HIV research in aging women. One new study of HIV-negative women suggests that post-menopausal women may be at a biologically higher risk for HIV than those who have not yet reached menopause. The other found potentially increased levels of Viread (tenofovir) in post-menopausal women taking the drug compared to pre-menopausal women taking the drug.

As Heidi Nass reported for TheBodyPRO.com:

Much of the biology of older women as it relates to HIV infection remains undiscovered. However, it is understood that lower levels of estrogen production after menopause affect a variety of factors -- thickness of the vaginal mucosa, vaginal secretion production and drug metabolism, for starters. Meanwhile, it is estimated that, by 2014, half of all people living with HIV in the U.S. will be over 50. Because changes in the vagina could affect susceptibility to HIV infection for women (whose primary route of infection is heterosexual sex), this topic will only continue to grow in importance.

Normally, we wouldn't promote our own news stories, but given that women's health does not get the fair attention it deserves -- especially when it comes to women living with HIV and aging women -- we wanted to highlight this research to emphasize its importance. Plus, microbicides shouldn't be the only women-related HIV news story that gets its props.

"Abbott Tells Jurors Kaletra Was 'Clobbered' by Competitors" (From Bloomberg)

GlaxoSmithKline, Rite Aid Corporation and other drug retailers are suing Abbott Laboratories for $4.5 billion in damages. They have accused Abbott of quadrupling the price of its HIV medication Norvir (ritonavir) to monopolize the HIV treatment market.

Bloomberg reports:

Abbott increased the wholesale price of a Norvir capsule containing 100 milligrams from $1.71 to $8.57, the company said in court documents. The price increase meant that other drugmakers that used Norvir in their medicines couldn't compete on price with Kaletra, Brian Hennigan, an attorney for London-based Glaxo, told the jury yesterday. He said Glaxo's Lexiva, which uses Norvir, was introduced about a month before the price increase and that Glaxo lost an estimated $570 million in profit on sales of Lexiva because it was sold at only half the rate that the company believed was possible.

The higher cost [of] Norvir also penalized drug customers such as Rite Aid that wanted to buy medicines that competed with Kaletra, lawyers for the drugstore chain and other distributors said in court filings. Those companies said in court filings that they were overcharged $1 billion as a result of Abbott's monopoly on Norvir and Kaletra.

The trial is set to last for the next three weeks. It is just the latest development in a long battle that began in 2003 when Abbott announced it would dramatically increase the price of Norvir, and was revived most recently in 2008 when unsealed documents called Abbott's motivation behind the price hike into question.

Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.


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