D Gregory Smith

PhRMA Report: 97 Treatments in Development for HIV

Filed By D Gregory Smith | November 27, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: ADAP, gratitude, HIV treatment, HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS medication, Pharmaceutical companies, PhRMA, Prescription Drug Assistance, PWH

Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful, really I am.

I routinely swallow pharmaceuticals that keep me alive (and cost over $2300.00 a month)-and because of the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), I don't pay full price for these meds. I know that if I'd been sick ten years earlier, I may not be alive today. And I know it's mostly because of scientific research and money from the pharmaceutical companies that I am living a healthy life. I know this and I'm grateful to them.

I'm grateful but I'm not an idiot.

Pharmaceutical companies are a business. A big business. If I think they're looking to save my sorry little ass solely out of kindness, beneficence, altruism and love, I'd be sorely mistaken. They're looking to make money. Saving my sorry little ass is just a side benefit. A very nice benefit for me and my ass, but a side benefit, nonetheless. Why?

Because big business is not personal.

So when we received this press release from PhRMA (The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) about a new report detailing 97 HIV treatments in development, I got a little excited.

That fundamental part of me (that probably lives in you, too), the part that "wants to stick it to the man" got all passionate and ready to rumble. I thought of all the angles involving profits, drug prices, small company buyouts, etc. that I could use.

But I also heard from another part of me, the part that doesn't want to bite the hand that keeps me alive. The part of me that's thawing the turkey for dinner with my partner and family tomorrow. The part that's grateful.

So I'm doing the only smart thing I could think of.

I decided to offer my thoughts, the press release and report to Bilerico readers and watch the responses from enlightened, passionate people shape a discussion in ways that I never could.

Have a look:

New Report Shows 97 Medicines and Vaccines
Currently in Development for HIV/AIDS

Washington, D.C. (November 24, 2009) -- America's pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies are testing 97 medicines and vaccines to treat or prevent HIV/AIDS and related conditions, according to a new report [read it here] released today by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). December 1 marks the 21st anniversary of "World AIDS Day" - a global awareness campaign that originated at the 1988 World Summit of Ministers of Health on Programmes for AIDS Prevention.

"We are greatly encouraged by these critically important medicines and vaccines in development to treat and prevent HIV infection," says PhRMA President and CEO Billy Tauzin. "Pharmaceutical researchers are continuing their efforts to develop new therapies and vaccines to improve and lengthen the lives of HIV-infected patients."

The report found that the 97 products in development include 23 vaccines and 54 antivirals. These drugs are either in human clinical trials or awaiting approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Thirty-one medicines to treat HIV/AIDS have been approved since scientists first identified the virus that causes AIDS more than 20 years ago. The first HIV/AIDS medicine was approved in 1987, just four years after the virus was identified.

Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than 1 million Americans were living with HIV infection at the end of 2006, the increased availability and utilization of newer prescription medicines has helped to reduce the U.S. death rate from AIDS substantially in recent years, according to government statistics. In fact, the CDC estimates that since the introduction of highly active anti-retroviral therapy in 1995, the annual number of deaths in the U.S. due to AIDS has dropped by more than 70 percent.

Despite this progress, AIDS remains a devastating and growing health problem in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, China, India and the Russian Federation. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, in 2007 an estimated 33 million people were living with HIV, 2.7 million were newly infected with HIV, and 2 million people died from the disease.

From 2000 to 2007, America's pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies contributed more than $9.2 billion to improve health care in the developing world, according to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations.

The projects they supported included clinics to treat patients with HIV/AIDS, education and prevention programs, initiatives to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and donations of medicines for AIDS and related diseases. A number of companies also provide AIDS drugs at reduced prices in many countries.

"As a result of HIV/AIDS medicines, a disease that was once a virtual death sentence can now be controlled and treated as if it were a chronic disease," states Tauzin. "And the new medicines our scientists are working on right now bring hope for even more promising results in the future."

"While researchers are making exciting progress in the search for new treatments for HIV/AIDS, these efforts are wasted if the medicines that are developed don't get to the patients who need them," says PhRMA Senior Vice President Ken Johnson.

Help is available to patients in need through the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), a program sponsored by America's pharmaceutical research companies. To date, the PPA has helped more than 6 million patients nationwide. Since its launch in April 2005, the PPA bus tour has visited all 50 states and more than 3,000 cities."

And to be fair, the Partnership for Prescription Assistance has helped some people I know. But right now we face catastrophic crises in California, Chicago, many rural areas and much of the South regarding prescription medication funding and basic necessities for PWH(Persons with HIV). Prescription assistance is a great idea, and if you're losing meds funding/assistance, please, check into it immediately.

I just don't know if it will be enough to stem the rising tide of treatment failures from PWH who can't get their meds- which are may be coming down the pipeline a helluva lot faster than the aforementioned treatments.

But here's a thought: If so many persons will need to apply for prescription assistance, maybe the pharmaceutical industry will become more compassionate, caring and understanding in the face of huge losses of revenue.

~Sigh~ I'm such a cock-eyed optimist.

But enough about me. What do you think?


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Correct me if I'm wrong on any or all of these counts but as for:

"The projects they supported included clinics to treat patients with HIV/AIDS, education and prevention programs, initiatives to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and donations of medicines for AIDS and related diseases. A number of companies also provide AIDS drugs at reduced prices in many countries."

First, based on research done by people like Michael Upton, a graduate researcher at the University of Manchester, there are huge issues with intellectual property rights issues that surround the global AIDS pharmaceutical industry. Michael, who has done extensive research on these matters, is far more savvy about these matters than I am, but he's worth contacting for more details. My own relatively uninformed point here is simply to strike a note of caution - and I don't think you're claiming otherwise - about any altruistic claims made by Big Pharma. I'm deeply cynical about the claims about "reduced prices" which, even if true, may well come after much Faustian bargaining with the countries. What are they required to give up in exchange?

As for:
"If so many persons will need to apply for prescription assistance, maybe the pharmaceutical industry will become more compassionate, caring and understanding in the face of huge losses of revenue." Perhaps I read too much into your tone but I suspect the presence of dripping sarcasm :-)
and rightly so.

I came of age about a generation after the most intense years of the ACT UP years, but even I know that it's best to keep demanding things from the pharmaceutical companies. You and others here will know more about the particulars, but I'm wary of the commingling of AIDS services and pharmaceutical companies. On the one hand, research and access matters enormously to so many people whose lives depend on it. On the other hand, well, pharmaceutical companies are growing more powerful as a result and I'm wary of that.

And then there's the elephant in the room: the still to be documented side effects of all these new drug regimens on patients. As I understand it, we're only now beginning to research and document them. Again, peoples' lives depend on the treatments, so it's a tough call.

Again, others can speak more to these issues in detail, but those are my two cents. Thanks for telling us about this press release.

... and your two cents add up to a lot, Yasmin.

Pharmaceutical companies have a LOT to lose or gain about intellectual property rights, distribution rights, generic patent infringement cases, price inflation (see NORVIR), and as you mentioned lastly, side effects. If PWH who take certain meds can't tolerate them, there is some room to move, but not as much as we'd like. It seems that the choice for some is live feeling like shit, or die feeling like shit. Given the choice... well, they've got the upper hand, because most of us want to live.

Oh, and by the way, the dripping sarcasm wasn't your imagination.

Appreciate your insight and interest.
G

As someone who used to work in the pharmaceutical industry, I'd say that the prescription assistance you mention is exactly what's inflating the prices of the meds. As long as the government lets the industry get away with setting whatever price it wants (and we're talking about selling pills that cost pennies a piece to make, even accounting for R&D and drug trial costs, for $10 bucks a pop) and having the government pick up the tab, prescription assistance benefits Big Pharma more than anyone else. I think that we have to have pharmaceutical assistance programs as part of our basic societal safety net, but we have to make them work in such a way that big money interests can't use them as their own personal ATMs like they do now.

As for the 97 drugs in the pipeline? Yes, expanding our arsenal against HIV is of utmost concern, but you can bet the only concern prompting their development is Big Pharma making sure they've got lots of unexpired patents in your portfolio. Having generic drug makers cutting into your bottom line is such a horrible downer, you know...

I am not a medical person but try to remain abreast of progress in R&D in that area.

Your post brought to mind a comprehensive mid 1980’s 2 page Wall Street Journal piece on AZT (the only RX at the time). Even I was able to follow the exhaustive account of the development, testing and distribution of this latest wonder drug. Near the end of the story was a very telling statistic. A month’s supply in the US was over $800 dollars while in France the same per patient supply was only $80 dollars. It seemed to indicate that lobby dollars and, indirectly, campaign contributions injected into the politicians feeding chain was the major cost of getting drugs to US patients needing them.

Now fast forward to 2009 as I move my tired, aging ass into the Medicare system I’m faced with much the same dilemma. “Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful, really I am.” Does benefiting from a basically corrupt system make it any better? Where are my Rolaids…

I wonder why they're releasing this info now. I mean, I kinda always assumed that there were various treatments for HIV/AIDS being worked on, and 97 in the pipeline doesn't mean that any of them will actually end up doing anything.

Are they worried that the rising anti-medical profiteering sentiment in the US will go after them, and they're trying to remind people that they also save lives? That doesn't get them off the hook for doing everything they can to block competition and fair pricing.

Paul Dalton | December 7, 2009 7:05 PM

Hey Greg, good to read your thoughts on pharma. PHARMA is the biggest lobbying group for the pharmaceutical industry. They release reports like this every year. The numbers are inflated and their spin is apparent.

My reading is that there are less than a dozen compounds in development (human trials or 'awaiting approval') for HIV that have any chance of panning out. Most of the compounds included in PHARMA's number are little more than tools to attract venture capital.

As I wrote about in POZ magazine a while back, there is a real danger in the slow down in HIV R and D. Whie we have a good number of effective and typically tolerable drugs, there really aren't enough compounds in the pipeline for those who have, or are getting close to exhausting their options.

It is undeniable that the pharmaceutical industry acts pretty much exactly like any other industry. They talk a lot about health and saving lives, but that is all window dressing. They are in the business of business and what they sell is drugs- drugs that many of us depend on for our very lives. We would do well to view them in the same way we would view anyone trying to sell us something- caveat emptor- buyer beware.