in this issue
Improving global affordability of HIV/AIDS drugs through technology innovation
10:45 AM MDT | October 25, 2012 | By GIRISH MALHOTRA
Affordability of HIV/AIDS drugs is critical for the well-being and survival of patients especially in underdeveloped countries. Companies have done an excellent job of inventing the necessary drugs. Initially, the patients who were not covered under healthcare programs could not afford them. Even for those who were covered, food for the family and drugs for an individual became an excruciating choice. Companies in the developing countries took it upon themselves to commercialize processes that had lowered their manufacturing costs—i.e. the lower selling price. Thus, availability and affordability became possible to many people in the countries.
Various governments and non-profit organizations (notably, the US Government, Médecins Sans Frontières [MSF], the World Health Organization [WHO], and the Clinton and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations) have done an excellent job of making the necessary drugs available for the needy. However, in the slow economic environment, governments and foundations are facing funding challenges that could make availability of the necessary drugs an uphill task. The need for the drugs has not gone away and is not going away.
How do we make the drugs more affordable? Is there a solution?
The answer to the query posed above is “yes” and it comes from lowering the manufacturing cost. Using the best manufacturing technologies along with the best business practices—e.g. supply chain rationalization, economies of scale, better chemistry and improved execution can lower the manufacturing cost of the needed drugs by 20-40% from the lowest selling prices listed on the MSF’s access campaign web site.
The cost reduction claim may seem to be large, but it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. Any cost reduction, or lower selling price, is worth the effort. Anyone who is familiar with chemical processes and cost accounting can reverse calculated factory costs within the plus/minus range of the actual costs. A thorough review of the chemistry process equipment, current practices, economies of scale and supply chain would be needed to develop better costs. Such review along with creativity and innovation can lead to the development and execution of the best and lowest cost process. Quality will be built in the process and profits could also increase.
The above mentioned reviews and practices are a common practice in the chemical, petrochemical and other chemical-related industries but have not been practiced in pharmaceutical manufacturing which includes the manufacture of active ingredients and their formulation to a dose. If done right, the savings could be higher. The best technology will also facilitate and simplify regulatory compliance.
If we are able to lower the cost of the needed drugs, pressures on the funding governments and the foundations will be reduced. It is possible that lower prices will extend coverage. It will be a win-win and lessons learned could be used to lower the costs of other drugs also.