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Brazil to make generic version of key AIDS drug Efavirenz
  Wed Sep 17, 2008 3:36pm EDT
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil said on Wednesday it will start producing a generic version of a key AIDS drug, the latest step in the country's long-running battle with pharmaceutical giants to bring down the cost of treatment for HIV patients.
A locally made generic version of Efavirenz, one of 17 drugs in the cocktail used by HIV patients, should be approved and ready for use in Brazil's widely acclaimed AIDS treatment program by early next year, the Health Ministry said.
"It's a historical mark for Brazil's pharmaceutical industry and Brazil's public health," Health Minister Jose Temporao said at a news conference in Brasilia, the capital.
"This could be the basis for future innovative initiatives by (Brazil) in this field."
Brazil, which provides free treatment to all AIDS patients, declared Efavirenz in the public interest in 2007. That allowed it to invoke a clause in World Trade Organization rules and sidestep a patent held by U.S. pharmaceutical firm Merck & Co Inc.
Since then, Brazil has been importing a generic version of the drug made in India, helping it cut costs significantly. Efavirenz now accounts for 4 percent of the Health Ministry's AIDS drug budget, down from 11 percent in 2006.
The cost of the Brazilian generic still has not been determined but Temporao said it would be well below Merck's price and close to what the ministry pays for Indian generics.
About 80,000 of the 200,000 Brazilian HIV patients take Efavirenz as part of their treatment.
Brazil has a long history of butting heads with foreign pharmaceutical giants, often threatening to break patents if they refuse to lower prices on AIDS drugs. Earlier this month, Brazil rejected a patent request for another AIDS drug made by U.S.-based Gilead Sciences Inc, citing public health concerns.
"What we want is that Brazil is treated and seen in a strategic way by the industry," Temporao said.
After climbing in the 1990s, Brazil's HIV infection rate has steadied at around 0.5 percent and the number of new cases and deaths have been declining. Experts attribute the success to the government's promotion of condoms, free treatment, and the use of generic drugs.
US pharmaceutical company Merck and Co. sent a letter to the Brazilian Far-Manguinhos laboratory asking them to stop importing generic versions of an AIDS drugs ...
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