The largest HIV/AIDS healthcare provider has banned Merck's sales reps from its clinics, saying that the company has overpriced its drug Isentress. AIDS Healthcare Foundation has been protesting the cost of Isentress for some time with no luck, but it hopes that this latest move will give it some leverage.
"We've banned representatives from Merck Pharmaceuticals from calling on our physicians in our clinics," Ged Kinslea, communications director for the foundation, tells AFP. "We are instituting this ban largely because of the egregious pricing policies for their key AIDS drug, Isentress." Costing almost $13,000 per year in the U.S., the drug appears to be the most expensive first-line AIDS med, the foundation says.
It also happens to be the first in a new class of HIV fighters, integrase inhibitors, which puts it much in demand. "The drug is a good drug; it has fewer side effects," Kinslea says. The key drawback is its cost, he continues, adding that Isentress's price tag is based on its previous indication as a "salvage therapy" for patients who had stopped responding to other drugs. Now that it's approved as a first-line treatment, the price should be lower, he maintains.
For its part, Merck has said that Isentress is comparably priced to such protease inhibitors as Reyataz, made by Bristol-Myers Squibb and sold for $29.92 per day; and Tibotec's Prezista, sold for $30.62 per day. Isentress' price is $29.85 per day. The foundation says that these are two "high-priced" protease inhibitors that aren't as frequently prescribed as Isentress is; Bristol's Sustiva and Gilead Biosciences' Viread both cost about half what Isentress does, the foundation says.