GlaxoSmithKline has announced what it calls “significant new price reductions” for its HIV drugs which are offered on a not-for-profit basis to the world’s poorest countries.

The reductions, the fifth such cut since 1997, apply to all the firm’s retrovirals but the most significant will be on Ziagen (abacavir) syrup which is recommended by the World Health Organisation for use in first-line and second-line regimens within resource-limited settings, particularly for children. The new price per pack has been reduced by 39.7% to $15.08.

The average reduction across the 14 not-for-profit HIV medicines is 21% and GSK said that the cuts will take effect immediately for public sector customers and not-for-profit organisations on the United Nations’ list of ‘least developed countries’ and Sub-Saharan Africa, 64 in all. They are also available to projects financed by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and by President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

GSK noted that a number of factors have enabled the firm to implement these price changes, “including improvements and efficiencies in manufacturing and supply, and reductions in the costs of active ingredients”. Chief executive Jean-Pierre Garnier said that “I have seen for myself the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS, and the continued response of the global community to this epidemic is vital”.

PEPFAR bill under spotlight
Staying with HIV/AIDS, President Bush has been talking about PEPFAR on his five-nation tour of Africa. Speaking in Rwanda on the third leg of the tour he said the scheme has had “a good beginning, like a good record, but it should only be viewed as a beginning”. He said the US Congress must therefore “double our PEPFAR initiative from $15 billion over five years to $30 billion over five years, quit the squabbling, and get the bill passed”.

However this new bill has come under fire in some quarters. While praising President Bush for creating PEPFAR, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in the USA says that “his legacy as a leader in the global fight against HIV and AIDS is at risk due to proposed changes in the priorities of PEPFAR that essentially cut the heart out of this lifesaving AIDS care and treatment programme”.

AHF president Michael Weinstein said “we are concerned that the legislation to reauthorize PEPFAR eliminates the requirement that a majority of funding be spent on providing lifesaving AIDS medical care”. Tom Myers, the foundation's general counsel, added that “by seeking to do so many worthy things – nutrition aid, legal empowerment of women, care for orphans and vulnerable children – [the bill] virtually guarantees that none of it will be done right, and none of these problems will be significantly alleviated, much less solved”.