Cipla quarrels with AIDS activists on price of drug

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Accusations by AIDS advocates regarding the policies of Indian drugmaker Cipla have led to a full-on dust-up between the two.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, known for targeting drug companies for their AIDS drug pricing and global access issues, mounted a new advocacy campaign yesterday challenging Cipla for an alleged price disparity between what the firm charges for its generic drugs in India vs. Africa. Cipla refuted the over-pricing charges in ads of its own, adding that it is “consulting our legal experts.”

The skirmish is the latest example of a drug firm talking tough with AIDS activists. Earlier this year, Abbott Labs surprised industry observers by suing a French AIDS group for trying to take down its Web site in a cyber attack. The suit followed other aggressive moves by Abbott, like quintupling the price of one of its drugs in the US and abandoning plans to introduce an improved formulation of an AIDS drug in Thailand. In the past, such aggressive measures against AIDS organizations were considered bad public relations for a corporation.

As part of its campaign, AHF held a press conference in New Delhi and published an ad headlined, “Profit at What Cost? AIDS Drugs for All,” that appeared in the Indian newspapers. It called on Cipla Chairman Dr. Yusuf Hamied to address the price difference.

“I am saddened that India's own Cipla charges two-and-one-half times as much in India as it does in Africa for its Viraday tablets, Cipla's generic three-in-one combination antiretroviral therapy that patients have to take just once a day,” said Chinkholal Thangsing, MD, AHF's Asia Pacific bureau chief. “This significant price difference contributes to the fact that far fewer Indians have access to such lifesaving AIDS therapies.”

In response, Cipla ran its own advertisement in various newspapers disagreeing with the charge. “Not one pack of AIDS drug Viraday has been sold by Cipla in Africa [to] date,” the company said in a statement.

Cipla called the AHF ad—which claimed it sold Viraday at Rs 54,000 per patient per year in India vs. Rs 21,200 per patient per year in Africa—“defamatory.”

Cipla launched Viraday last fall. The three-drug combination pill is a copy of the Bristol-Myers Squibb/Gilead Sciences drug Atripla, approved last year by the FDA. At the time, Cipla said it would charge about a tenth of the international price for the drug. The company also said it was registering Viraday in various parts of Africa.

AHF said other Indian drugmakers aren't immune from similar price reviews, naming Ranbaxy, Emcure, Aurobindo and Genex, but that it initially targeted Cipla because it's the largest.

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