Roche has inked a deal with the Medicines Patent Pool to improve access to Valcyte, the Swiss major's drug to treat cytomegalovirus.

The supply agreement will make Valcyte (valganciclovir) up to 90% cheaper in 138 developing and emerging countries than it is currently available. MPP, a United Nations-backed funding agency which is part of the World Health Organisation, said the partners will consider adding more countries and explore licensing and technology transfer as a second step to help local production.

CMV is a viral infection that can result in loss of vision and greater risk of death in people with HIV. It affects around one in 10 people living with the disease in low-and middle-income countries.

Treatment of CMV is typically difficult to administer, Roche says, requiring several injections to the eye, hospitalisation and care by highly trained staff. However Valcyte is an oral alternative, but "due to a number of reasons, including lack of screening and high prices, patients in developing countries have not been able to receive it".

This lower price should also help create a new market for Valcyte, the Basel-headquartered giant notes, saying governments and other treatment providers can "ramp up efforts to ensure screening for CMV becomes part of routine HIV care and people can access treatments to preserve their sight".  

Greg Perry, MPP executive director, said that access to an oral treatment for CMV at lower prices will "help break a cycle of lack of screening and treatment in many countries". Roche has also agreed to license its HIV drug Invirase (saquinavir) to the MPP "in case the need arises".