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US Firm to Allow Copying of AIDS Drugs

Gilead Sciences Inc. headquarters in Foster City, California, March 12, 2009 (file photo)

Gilead Sciences Inc. headquarters in Foster City, California, March 12, 2009 (file photo)

One of the world's biggest producers of AIDS drugs says it will make some of them available for cheaper generic manufacturing, potentially boosting their use in poor countries, particularly in Africa.

U.S. drugmaker Gilead Sciences said Tuesday it has reached an agreement with the United Nations' Medicines Patent Pool to allow other manufacturers to copy four of its drugs in exchange for a small proportion of royalties on their sales. It is the first time the U.N. group has negotiated a deal for generic manufacturing of drugs whose patents are owned by a private pharmaceutical company.

Major drugmakers usually hold on to the patented sales rights for their drugs for 10 years or longer, which often means that people in poor countries have to wait until the patents expire before the drugs are made more cheaply by generic manufacturers. In this case, the U.N. agency said Gilead's disclosure of the compounds for the drugs will make them available much sooner.

There are 33 million people worldwide who have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and most of them live in Africa. Many poor countries now only have access to older drugs to treat the disease, some of which have harsh side effects.

Two of the Gilead drugs, tenofovir and emtricitabine, are important components of current AIDS therapy. The other two drugs are still in clinical development.

Under terms of the agreement, Gilead will receive 3 to 5 percent royalties on the generic drugs, which will be made available in about 100 countries. The company is waiving any royalty payments on formulations that are made for children.

The royalties the company receives are expected to be a tiny fraction of the amount Gilead normally receives from sales to patients in Western countries.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.