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Last Updated:  Monday, 24 February, 2003, 13:35 GMT
Roche fuels HIV drugs debate
Swiss pharmaceuticals company Roche has fuelled the debate over the cost of HIV drugs by setting a record-breaking price for its new drug Fuzeon.

The company says charging 18,980 euros ($20,570; 12,905) a year - twice as much as the nearest alternative treatment - is justified by the cost of creating and manufacturing such a complex and expensive drug.

The announcement comes as the big drug manufacturers are coming under fierce pressure to cut the cost of HIV drugs, especially to the developing countries of Africa where the disease is growing fastest and the financial and other resources to cope with it are poorest.

It has also emerged that one of the great hopes for beating HIV and Aids - a potential vaccine developed by VaxGen - has proved far less effective than had been hoped in a three-year study.

High cost

Roche spokesman Horst Kramer told the BBC's World Business Report the high cost of Fuzeon was justified.

He said manufacturing the drug involved 106 production steps, more than any other drug, and that raw material costs are also high.

"To produce 1kg of active substance we need to use 45kgs of raw materials and these raw materials are specialities on their own already," he said.

Pharmaceutical companies including Roche have cut the cost of some Aids drugs in poor countries in the past few years, under pressure from humanitarian groups.

But David Reddy, head of Roche's HIV business, told Reuters he did not envisage Fuzeon ever being suitable for use in Africa due to its high production costs.

He said the drug has cost 840m Swiss francs ($614m; 389m) to develop, not including marketing expenses.

Fuzeon is designed to block HIV from entering healthy human immune cells and is active against strains that have become resistant to already available medications.

Roche spokesman Horst Kramer
"It has about 106 production steps... this has not been the case for any other drug before"

Aids drug deal 'within reach'
15 Nov 02 |  Business

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