The USA’s largest AIDS support organisation has applauded Boehringer Ingelheim and Gilead Sciences for agreeing to freeze prices on antiretrovirals bought by government agencies but has expressed disappointment at the less-than-enthusiastic stance taken by other drugmakers.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which operates free treatment clinics in the Africa, Asia and Latin America/Caribbean, as well as in the USA, wrote to nine firms in March – Abbott, Boehringer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gilead, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck & Co, Pfizer, Roche and Tibotec. The letters urged a suspension of price increases, particularly for government programmes, many of which cannot expand access to AIDS drugs “despite modest funding increases” due to regular hikes in the price of antivirals.

AHF’s letter noted that there is “no real justification for these price increases as many of the antivirals have been on the US market for five to ten years”. The development cost for these drugs “have already been recouped”, it added, and the cost of producing them “is a mere fraction of the prices at which they were sold”.

Of the recipients of the letter, only Boehringer and Gilead replied with a commitment to do something positive, AHF said. The German-headquartered firm has extended a price freeze on Aptivus (tipranavir) and Viramune (nevirapine) to May 1, 2009, while Gilead is suspending price increases to government payers until December 31, 2010.

AHF noted that responses from Tibotec, Roche, Pfizer and B-MS reiterated the companies’ commitment to increasing access, but made no specific pledge with regard to a suspension, though the organisation added that it has “yet to receive a response of any kind” from Merck, GSK and Abbott”. The organisation’s president, Michael Weinstein, said that “we urge the other drug companies to follow Boehringer’s and Gilead’s lead and to freeze price increases”.

He added that the rises “create an unnecessary burden on an already overburdened public health system and keep lifesaving drugs out reach for those who need them”.