Upcoming patent expiries stand to make medicines cheaper — although less convenient.
August 15, 2012
HIV remains a devastating scourge worldwide — and an expensive one. In the United States, where HIV care costs the most, the annual price of treatment averages almost US$20,000 per patient, and the federal government foots most of the bill. This year alone, the United States will spend nearly $15 billion on HIV care and medication, yet funding shortfalls mean that more than 2,000 patients remain on a waiting list for antiretrovirals, and many others are not receiving treatment for co-infections such as hepatitis C.
In the next few years, that economic burden looks set to ease as US patents on the ‘superstar’ HIV drugs begin to expire (see ‘Time’s up’). Generic versions of brand-name antiretrovirals, whose use is permitted in the developing world, could reduce the cost per patient and allow the US budget to stretch further. “AIDS, as we currently know it, may become much more affordable,” says John Bartlett, an infectious-disease researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland.
Earlier this year, the HIV/AIDS working group at the Department of Health and Human Services asked Rochelle Walensky — an infectious-disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who is known for her cost-effectiveness analyses — for an opinion on the impact of a switch from Atripla, a widely used 3-in-1 HIV pill, to a combination of generic and brand-name drugs might be. Atripla is the first of four first-line drug combinations recommended by US guidelines that will be affected by patent expiries. A key component of the pill will lose protection next year.