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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 October, 2003, 00:31 GMT
Indian drugs boss hails Aids deal

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News Online

Three years ago Yusuf K Hamied, head of Indian drugs company Cipla, stunned a European Commission medical meeting in Brussels by offering to sell anti-Aids drugs at a fraction of the going rate.

Dr Yusuf Hamied
Dr Yusuf Hamied makes some of the cheapest Aids drugs in the world
He announced that he could sell a three-drug anti-retroviral combination for around $800 per patient per year.

Big brand-name pharmaceutical companies were then selling their Aids drugs at $12,000 per patient per year.

The following year, in 2001, Dr Hamied declared he was ready to sell the drugs even more cheaply - at about $300 per patient per year.

Last week, Dr Hamied won a major victory when former US president Bill Clinton brokered a deal whereby four companies making cheap, generic Aids drugs could begin supplying to millions of people in developing countries.

One of them is Cipla, India's third largest drug company.

It is now offering to sell a three-drug anti-Aids cocktail for $140 per patient per year "subject to some conditions".

'Generic drugs are now respectable'

The generic drug company, set up by Dr Hamied's father in Bombay (Mumbai) in 1935, makes some 800 drugs - 20 of them anti-Aids ones - and exports to around 140 countries.

Multinationals have been running us down for years. Now there's international recognition of our quality and service
Dr Yusuf Hamied
It is legal in India to copy a drug designed abroad and sell it in the market - as long as the company can prove that it used a different manufacturing process.

Dr Hamied says the Clinton Foundation's endeavour has given a greatly-needed shot in the arm to generic drugs.

"Generic drug companies, especially from India, have now got respectability, quality and trust," he told BBC News Online from Frankfurt where he was attending a pharmaceutical fair.

"Multinationals have been running us down for years. Now there's international recognition of our quality and service."

Last year Cipla won the approval of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to market the Aids drugs whenever local governments allow their sale.

'Pushy drug dealer'

The Cambridge-educated Dr Hamied, 67, has been described as a "pushy drug dealer" and a "generic drugs maverick".

He feels that his three-year battle for cheaper Aids drugs for poorer nations has had a multiplier effect.

Woman with Aids
WHO hopes cheap drugs will reach three million Aids patients by 2005
"The fact that the MNCs have reduced prices [of their Aids drugs] from $12,000 to three to four times the present prices of generic companies proves that their conscience has been pricked," says Dr Hamied.

"Remember, most of the Aids drugs were not originally invented by these companies - they are mostly in-license products."

But offering to supply cheap Aids drugs is only half the battle.

Mr Clinton hopes that under his foundation's scheme up to two million people will have received the cut-price drugs by 2008.

But Dr Hamied says governments around the world need to take major initiatives to fund the purchase of cheaper drugs.

"It just does not start and finish with the supply of drugs. There's medicare and continuing tests that cost money," he said.

Free offerings

"Supplying cheap drugs in isolation will not solve the problem."

He singled out the governments of Brazil and Uganda as being pro-active in controlling the spread of the disease in their countries.

Cipla has registered its anti-Aids drugs in 65 countries, and is already supplying to 59 of them.

Dr Hamied says this Aids drug can be sold at $140 per patient per year
The company already supplies one drug - to stop mother-to-child transmission - free of charge.

Cipla has also offered free technology to make anti-Aids drugs "to state-owned companies in all Third World countries", says Dr Hamied.

But he is not very happy with the way the Indian Government has moved to tackle Aids.

India has an estimated four million cases of HIV.

Dr Hamied wants lower duties on imported raw materials for the drugs, government distribution and slashing of local taxes to make the drugs still cheaper.

"We need more action than words in India today," said Dr Hamied.

Clinton brokers landmark Aids deal
24 Oct 03  |  Americas
HIV drugs boost 10-year survival
17 Oct 03  |  Health
Clinton: From scandal to plaudits
24 Oct 03  |  Americas
Annan issues stark Aids warning
22 Sep 03  |  Africa
Bush signs $15bn Aids-fighting plan
28 May 03  |  Americas
Q&A: Aids in Africa
20 Feb 03  |  Health

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