Roche has started a programme to help poorer countries struggling to cope with the burden of HIV, by offering technical expertise on how to make its antiretroviral drug saquinavir.

The Technology Transfer Initiative, aimed particularly at sub-Saharan Africa and some other least-developed countries in the world, will help them increase capacity to make saquinavir, which is recommended by the World Health Organisation as a second-line treatment for HIV in areas where resources are scarce.

With the growing scale up effort resulting in increased access to first line treatment in resource limited settings, such as sub-Saharan Africa, the need and subsequently the demand for second line treatments will continue to grow, said Roche.

Explaining the move, Roche Pharmaceuticals chief executive William Burns, said: “We have taken this unique step … to help ensure that the right medicines in the right formulation are available locally."

"With international funding now available, Africa will be the world's biggest user of HIV medicine,” he added.

A team to carry out the technology transfer is being assembled and will start work in the second quarter of 2006.