AIDS activists grade pharma

The AIDS Activists Coalition released its Pharmaceutical Company HIV/AIDS Report Card last week and they're not all exactly the kind of report cards you want to take home to mom.

Nine companies were evaluated over the span of a year on their drug development portfolios and plans, the accessibility of their commercialized medicines, drug pricing, community relations and marketing practices. Those companies included Abbott Laboratories (grade: F), Roche (grade: D), Boehringer Ingelheim (grade: D+), Bristol-Myers Squibb (grade: C-), GlaxoSmithKline (grade: C-), Gilead Sciences (grade: C+) and Pfizer (grade: C+). And at the head of the class? Merck and Tibotec Therapeutics (grade: B): both received praises for lowering the prices of their drugs.

"Merck has been an exceptional company," Lynda Dee, a representative of ATAC's drug development committee, said in an interview with FiercePharma. Merck gets kudos for being an "innovator," having spent years (and a fortune) trying to develop an HIV vaccine. "It's easy to be a me too company, it's very hard to be an innovator company," added Dee.

Tibotec scored high marks for avoiding what Dee calls "fear-based" advertising. "Their marketing practices are fair and balanced," she explained. The developer has also made advances in enrolling hard-to-recruit populations, including people with HIV in their protocols, meeting with AIDS activists and making their drugs accessible by lowering the prices and providing free medicines for patients in Africa.

Abbott Labs got a seat in the time-out corner; along with the report card with the only F. ATAC--which consults with companies on trial design and patient recruitment--says it refuses to meet with the drugmaker until it lowers the price of Norvir. According to the organization, Abbott raised the price of Norvir 400 percent, even after finding the drug could be effective at half the dose. And the company refuses to supply free medicines for research trials or coformulate Norvir with protease inhibitors developed by other drugmakers.

In response, Abbott tells FiercePharma that they have reviewed the ATAC report and take what the activist community has to say to heart, but the drugmaker has worked to make its drugs acessible. "If you look at our track record, it shows that we develop life-saving medicines and make sure that they're made available and that people have access to them around the world," said Dirk van Eeden, Abbott's Director of Public Affairs. "In the U.S., our pricing program has been most generous and if you look at the global HIV community, we've made sure that the people hardest hit by HIV have access to our medicine."

- here's the report card