While Pfizer is celebrating regulatory approval for Selzentry, the USA’s largest and oldest AIDS support organisation has called on the firm and other major drug companies to put a fair price on innovative new treatments.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) says it is pleased that the US Food and Drug Administration has approved Selzentry (maraviroc) as a combination treatment in adults who have CCR5-tropic detectable virus and the group’s chief of medicine Homayoon Khanlou added that “we welcome the FDA approval of this clinically promising new drug into the arsenal of available AIDS treatments, particularly for use by patients who have developed resistance to many of the current antiretroviral regimens available today”.

However, AHF is concerned about the cost of this new drug as Pfizer has stated that Selzentry (maraviroc), which should be available by September, will be marketed at a wholesale price of $10,585 per patient per year or $29 per day. The New York-based drugs giant has also pointed out that it would make the drug available through an expanded access programme for patients with no insurance coverage or limited financial resources, but AHF is worried that this might not be going far enough.

In 2006, said AHF, more than one million people in the USA were believed to be living with HIV or AIDS, showing that as a result of antiretroviral treatment, many more people are living longer with the disease. However, this has led to a greater burden has been put on the healthcare system, including several of the federally-funded, state-run AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP) in the USA. These ADAPs are the primary source of HIV/AIDS medications for poor Americans but in President Bush’s 2007 budget, AHF claims that they “saw only minor funding increases which were not proportional to the need based on and increasing national caseload”.

It is against this background that AHF’s president, Michael Weinstein, said that “we strongly urge Pfizer and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole to use restraint when pricing many of these new and promising AIDS drugs. He added that while the organisation is excited by the treatment possibilities Selzentry offers, “we have serious concerns on the price of this drug and we ask that it be priced fairly so that people in need of such lifesaving medicines may actually benefit from them”.

Mr Weinstein went on to argue that “given the enormous profit that pharmaceutical companies reap by selling medications to government programmes—by far the largest purchasers of drugs in this country—it is incumbent that drug companies work to help ensure that AIDS patients who are not able to access medications due to state and federal funding gaps still have access to such lifesaving treatments”.

He concluded by saying that “Pfizer is taking advantage of the hard work that advocates do to make sure that funding is available for ADAP and Medicaid. Fair and equitable pricing of these drugs from the outset is one way to achieve this goal”.