Celebrities, scientists and Nobel laureates call for price cap on ‘life-saving’ HIV drug

Public figures from various fields and industries signed an open letter on Tuesday, calling on British pharmaceutical company ViiV Healthcare to ensure fair global access to its new HIV prevention drug, cabotegravir (CAB-LA), a long-acting injectable. of action.

The letter acknowledges the remarkable achievement of scientists working at ViiV Healthcare to develop the breakthrough drug, which acts as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to protect against HIV, but argues that the discovery would be wasted if the price of the treatment is too high for the majority of the world’s population.

Signatories include Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, singers Adam Lambert and Olly Alexander and UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima , as well as major players in the field of public health.

“HIV prevention drugs have disproportionately reached people in wealthy countries, while millions of people around the world who need them most have limited access,” the letter says. “If CAB-LA is not widely available and affordable, it will deepen the inequalities that both fuel the AIDS pandemic and are exacerbated by it. Access to life science cannot and should not depend on the passport you hold or the money in your pocket.

What makes the new drug so revolutionary is that it provides long-term protection with regular injections, unlike traditional oral PrEP which comes in pill form and must be taken daily in order to maintain protection. When medications require daily diligence, the chances of missed doses are higher, either for financial reasons or other factors such as “pill fatigue”. But if these long-term injections are only available to people in rich countries, its profound benefits will be wasted, according to the letter.

Although significant progress has been made in efforts to stem the AIDS pandemic, the disease remains a major public health threat worldwide, the letter said.

“There are 1.5 million new infections a year and one person still dies every minute from AIDS,” he says.

The majority of new cases, as well as deaths, occur in low-income countries that have little access to preventative drugs and funding for sexual health. Africa is the region hardest hit by the health crisis, accounting for two-thirds of global cases, according to the World Health Organization. In fact, 1 in 25 adults in Africa is infected with the virus.

Significant progress has been made in the past to expand access to anti-HIV drugs. In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies fought to prevent newly developed anti-HIV drugs from being sold at reasonable prices, depriving tens of millions of people of essential health care. Since then, prices have been reduced and patents have been relaxed. Today, about 20 million Africans have access to HIV treatment for less than $100 a year.

These efforts have saved an estimated 16.5 million lives, the letter states. But more than 10 million people still lack access to adequate HIV/AIDS drugs, a disparity that causes 680,000 preventable deaths each year.

The groundbreaking CAB-LA development could both curb the spread of the pandemic and prevent millions of people from contracting the virus.

But only if a fair, public health-based approach is taken. To its credit, ViiV has pledged to make the drug available at a “not-for-profit price” in low-income countries until a generic becomes available, according to the Guardian.

The authors urge the ViiV to take four specific actions:

1. Advertise a lower price for the long-acting injectable ARV for prevention, CAB-LA, as close as possible to other HIV prevention drugs (PrEP). The current best PrEP option is around $60 per person per year. Make the price public and transparent, and include the cost of the accompanying syringe.

2. Quickly finalize licenses to produce generic versions of this long-acting ARV through the Medicines Patent Pool. Licensed in low- and middle-income countries around the world on a non-exclusive basis, with a wide geographic scope for treatment and prevention.

3. Share know-how and technology. Enable producers in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe and beyond to seek transfer and start producing.

4. Commit to producing enough to meet demand until the generic producers come online.

Organizations such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will play a key role in achieving these goals due to its extensive footprint in countries around the world, giving it the ability to work with health care facilities and ensuring the proper delivery of medications.

Ahead of its replenishment in September, the Global Fund aims to mobilize $18 billion for 2024-2026 to save 20 million lives, reduce the death rate for the three diseases by 64% and stop more than 450 million infections.

The open letter, which seeks to generate momentum and raise awareness for equitable access, also notes the 24th International AIDS Conference on July 27-28 as an opportunity to enshrine these goals.

“ViiV can show the world that we can continue to accelerate progress against AIDS by ensuring that the best new prevention and treatment technologies can reach the millions of people who need them most – to stop the virus and support long lives with HIV,” the letter reads. .

“New HIV prevention and treatment options are always exciting; the introduction of long-acting antiretrovirals could be a game changer, hastening the end of AIDS and positively impacting efforts against future pandemics.

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