Business Day (South Africa) (10.20.03) - Friday, October 24,
The Competition Commission last week recommended that
GlaxoSmithKline and Boehringer Ingelheim be forced to allow
cheap generic copies of their AIDS drugs in South Africa. The
complaint originated with the Treatment Action Campaign and
other activist groups who argued that, despite recent cuts,
the prices the firms charge are excessively high. "These drugs
are not like aspirin, you can't substitute one with another,"
said Jonathon Berger, a researcher with the AIDS Law Project,
which represents the complainants.
The commission found that Boehringer and Glaxo had contravened
the Competition Act by engaging in restrictive practices, such
as denying competitors access to patents.
"Of course we have dominant market position [with nevirapine],
we invented it," said Boehringer spokesperson Kevin McKenna,
who said the commission's finding is "absolutely false,
misleading and mischievous." He said Boehringer's South
African branch sells nevirapine to the private sector at R360
(US$52)for a month's supply, down from more than R1,102
(US$157) in 2001.
Boehringer is sympathetic to further price reductions, said
McKenna, noting that the firm has granted Aspen Pharmacare a
voluntary license to manufacture generic nevirapine. The drug
is still awaiting registration by the Medicines Control
Council. Once registered, it may be sold only to the public
sector - which does not yet provide antiretrovirals to AIDS
Glaxo dominates the market, holding patents on AZT (Retrovir),
lamivudine (3TC) and the two combined (Combivir). As the
commission was issuing its finding, Glaxo said it had slashed
public sector prices of its drugs in developing countries and
extended the license it had given Aspen to manufacture
generics to include the private sector and other sub-Saharan
countries. Aspen awaits registration of its generic versions
of Glaxo's drugs. Both Glaxo and Boehringer say the
commission's announcement took them by surprise.