Deal slashes drug price of 3 in 1 pill for people living with HIV

Employees and security staff work at the reception area of Cipla at its headquarters in Mumbai. Photo by: REUTERS / Danish Siddiqui

WASHINGTON — People living with HIV will soon have access to a much less expensive three in one combination therapy for fighting tuberculosis, to which they are particularly susceptible.

UNITAID and Indian pharmaceutical company CIPLA have entered into an agreement that allows the latter to slash the prices of its drug, Q-TIB, by 30 percent. This means that a person living with HIV will soon have access to a full month’s worth of the drug for only $1.99.

“Thanks to the agreement between UNITAID and CIPLA, the three in one pill will only be 15 percent more expensive than if the drugs were bought separately,” UNITAID Executive Director Lelio Marmora told Devex ahead of the announcement on Friday.

“The price is expected to be on par with the cost of buying separate drugs as purchase volumes increase and additional manufacturers enter the market, bringing competition and greater supply to meet patient demand.”

The price is available for public sector purchasers operating in low- and middle-income countries, which includes government and NGOs, as well as international initiatives such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and PEPFAR, said Marmora. The drug was prequalified by the World Health Organization in 2017, allowing its procurement and distribution by international bodies like the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund.

The drug is currently the only quality-assured, fixed-dose drug combining co-trimoxazole, isoniazid, and vitamin B6 out in the market, he said. Co-trimoxazole fights infections like bacterial pneumonia, while isoniazid works to prevent active TB infection. Pyridoxine or vitamin B6 meanwhile, is meant to protect individuals from the long-term use side effects of isoniazid, which numbs a person’s extremities.

HIV weakens the immune system, increasing the risk of dangerous infections. Patients with a CD4 cell count below 350 cells/mm3 are advised by WHO to take the drug.

The drug is expected to improve adherence to treatment, as patients need only take one pill versus three separate pills to prevent life-threatening common infections. It is also hoped to reduce TB-related deaths among people living with HIV — with the increased uptake of isoniazid, whose availability has been “inconsistent” in low- and middle-income countries, said the UNITAID head.

In 2016, close to 400,000 people died of HIV-associated TB, making TB the leading cause of death among people living with the virus, with about 1 million people living with HIV falling ill with TB, according to WHO data.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.