Wednesday, May 13, 2009

GSK-Pfizer union in AIDS treatment

A friend from a our local coalition here in Manila, the Coalition for Health Advocacy and Transparency (CHAT), posted this news story in our discussion the other day:

GSK Joins Forces with Pfizer to develop HIV/AIDS drugs

Britain's biggest pharmaceuticals firm will pool resources with American rival in £250m joint venture Company Britain's biggest drugs company, GlaxoSmithKline, is to pool resources for treating HIV/AIDS with US rival Pfizer in a bid to reinvigorate financial returns from tackling the global epidemic.

GSK and Pfizer announced today that they intend to create a new company, headquartered in London but as yet unnamed, to manage their HIV operations with initial working capital of £250m.

The lion's share of the business will be owned by GSK, which will take 85 per cent to reflect its portfolio of big-selling HIV drugs such as Combivir and Kivexa. The other 15 per cent will go to Pfizer, which will contribute potentially promising new treatments.

GSK's chief executive, Andrew Witty, said the "clear focus" of the joint venture would be in delivering new drugs to build on what he described as the drugs industry's remarkable success in tackling HIV over the last two decades.

The new company will have 11 drugs on the market and a further six in clinical development. It will have a market share of 19 per cent and annual sales of £1.6bn.

Once the global leader in HIV drugs, GSK has slipped to second place behind a US rival, Gilead, and has seen sales stutter. Revenue from GSK's HIV treatments fell by 5% to £1.5bn last year, while sales of the company's entire pharmaceuticals portfolio slipped 3% to £20.3bn.

Pfizer has a relatively newly launched HIV drug, Selzentry, and is working on several more in trials....

Source: The Guardian (UK), 16 April 2009

I think this is a good and welcome development. Competing companies have to set aside their corporate rivalry in some cases to pool resources in order to develop more revolutionary treatment to some pressing diseases.

Medicine innovation, or discovery of new medicines and vaccines for new and emerging diseases, will remain to be a very important function of innovator pharma companies. Generics pharma firms have little or zero capability to develop revolutionary drugs. They can only copy and make slight improvement or new marketing ideas on old and previously innovator drugs whose patents have expired, or still patented but governments will come in to issue a compulsory licensing (CL).

The current flu virus A(H1N1), the WHO says there is no existing vaccine to fight it yet. The earliest vaccine to come out will be 5 to 6 months from now.

Before we have H5N1 (avian flu), today we have H1N1 (swine flu), tomorrow we may have H105N501 or H302N203 or whatever new disease. Diseases keep on evolving and mutating, so that old and existing medicines cannot deal with the new "cousin" diseases of the old ones.

I think GSK and Pfizer are looking at new or evolved strands of AIDS that they see will emerge in the next couple of years, on top of current strands of AIDS virus that need urgent and quick medications.

My understanding is that all anti-AIDS medicines that are currently existing can only keep AIDS virus at bay, but not really kill it. Sort of just helping boost the immune system of the patients, keep them alive longer until such time that their natural immune system has fully recovered. But the virus that depletes the immune system in the patients' body cannot be killed yet by existing anti-AIDS medicines.

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