Merck & Co says that it has begun to file registrations to market the HIV treatment Atripla in a number of the countries in the developing world so that the poor can get quicker access to the drug.

Atripla, which was approved in the USA in July, is a once-daily, triple therapy for HIV-1 that is delivered in a single tablet, and combines Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Sustiva (efavirenz) and Gilead's Emtriva (emtricitabine) and Viread (tenofovir). It was registered in Ethiopia in November 2006 and will be filed in 45 countries in the Middle East & Africa and nine others in Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia Pacific during the first half of 2007. In an additional 11 countries, Atripla can be imported based on the US registration and an application for World Health Organisation pre-qualification is also being sought.

Merck, which signed a deal with B-MS and Gilead Sciences to distribute the drug in developing nations, noted that for countries ranked low on the United Nations' Human Development Index, Atripla will cost $1.68 per tablet, or $50.40 per pack and $2.83 or $84.90 per pack for those ranked in the medium range.

The move was given the thumbs-up from AIDS groups and Prof Sir Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, said that "fixed-dose combination drugs have revolutionised antiretroviral therapy in the developing world and brought treatment to millions," and “Merck and Gilead are to be congratulated on bringing to the market this new weapon in the fight against HIV/AIDS in developing countries."

The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS also backed the initiative, saying it “welcomes Merck's decision to make Atripla available at differential prices and encourages the pharmaceutical industry as a whole to intensify their efforts to rapidly increase the affordability and accessibility of high quality medicines and technologies in low and middle-income countries.