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Author Topic: Hiv Pharmaceutical Industries.  (Read 2753 times)

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Offline ubotts

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Hiv Pharmaceutical Industries.
« on: March 16, 2008, 11:47:24 AM »

Los Angeles Times News Service
Sunday, March 16, 2008

Paying it forward

California firm reaps windfall in once-risky HIV drug market

By Daniel Costello
Los Angeles Times

It wasn’t long ago the pharmaceutical industry viewed HIV drugs as more of a public service than possible best-sellers.

Unlike cancer or heart disease, where drugs for patients in richer markets such as the United States and Europe can be instantly and startlingly profitable, two-thirds of people infected with HIV are in impoverished regions in Africa.

But something unexpected is happening: As treating HIV patients in the U.S. and abroad continues to improve, it has turned into a growing profit center for the drug industry.

No company is gaining more from the boom than once little-known Gilead Sciences, a northern California biotechnology outfit that sells medications to more than half of HIV patients around the nation.

The rise in HIV profits is happening for several reasons: Many of the patients on AIDS drugs today are expected to stay on them for years – if not decades – and the trend is to treat the disease earlier. A new generation of once-a-day pills has made the virus disease easier to treat.

At the same time, hopes for an AIDS vaccine have faded, and rates of new infections in some communities are climbing after years of stabilizing.

While some of those developments might be bad news for public health, they’re benefiting companies such as Foster City, Calif.-based Gilead. Named after a medicinal balm in the Bible, the company saw revenues reach $4.3 billion last year, up one-third from 2006. HIV product sales in 2007 were $3.14 billion, an increase of 48 percent compared to a year earlier.

Last year, Gilead’s stock price rose by more than one-third, and its market value climbed above $42 billion recently, making it the third-largest biotechnology company by market value in the world.

Should its growth continue apace, the company soon could be worth more than Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based biotech giant Amgen Inc, analysts predict.

“They are a rare bright spot in biotechnology right now,” said Bear Stearns & Co. biotech analyst Mark Schoenebaum. “They saw a big market in HIV and have capitalized on it better than anyone.”

Much of the Gilead’s success has come from its foresight in making AIDS drugs easier to take.

Just a few years ago, people with HIV took dozens of pills a day to remain healthy. But living with the disease has become significantly more manageable as a new generation of once-a-day AIDS drugs has arrived on the market.

Gilead is the leader in the field. One of its first single drug blockbusters, Truvada, was launched in 2004 and combined two medications used in a common HIV regimen, Viread and Emtriva.

Two years ago, the company introduced an even simpler pill, Atripla, by combining those two drugs with another made by Bristol-Myers Squibb, Sustiva. The collaboration is a rare example of two drug companies jointly selling their combined medications, and the strategy has paid off handsomely.

Atripla is now the most prescribed treatment regimen for patients starting HIV therapy in the U.S., according to the company, and it is expected to bring in more than $1 billion in sales this year. Truvada costs about $850 a month; Atripla costs about $1,300 a month. The drugs typically are covered by patients’ insurance, and the uninsured can get free AIDS medications through state programs, although waits have lengthened.

“These drugs are a milestone because of how easy they are to use,” said Dr. Homayoon Khanlou, a Los Angeles HIV specialist who estimates the majority of his patients now take one pill a day for their HIV regiment. “People take it after dinner, and they are done with their treatment.”

Few drug companies saw HIV as a large and viable market a few years ago. Public pressure to keep AIDS drug prices low and a trend of foreign countries ignoring AIDS drug patents and making less expensive versions on their own seemed like surefire profit-killers.

“A lot of companies were scared off because of all the political and assumed financial pressure (around HIV drugs),” said John Martin, Gilead’s chief executive.

Martin said Gilead believed differently. In the 1990s, the company sold several HIV treatments, including one to treat a common eye problem in AIDS patients and acquired smaller companies with promising HIV drugs.

It also elected a high-profile chairman to its board: Donald Rumsfeld, who remained in the role until he left to join the Bush administration in 2001.

As its business has grown, Gilead has taken the thunder away from former HIV heavyweight, GlaxoSmithKline, whose HIV sales have flattened over the past year.
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