Philanthropic Roche shares manufacturing technology with Africa

By Katrina Megget

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Roche Antiretroviral drug Aids

Switzerland-based Roche is helping African nations fight the AIDS
epidemic by sharing its coveted saquinavir drug-producing
technology with two more manufacturers in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.

As part of the drug giant's Technology Transfer Initiative, the Addis Pharmaceutical factory in Ethiopia and Varichem Pharmaceuticals in Zimbabwe will be provided, free of charge, with the technical expertise and guidance to manufacture generic HIV medicine, based on processes to produce saquinavir, Roche's second line HIV medicine.

The two companies join five others across Africa which have received the technology since the initiative's launch in January last year.

A Roche spokeswoman told the scheme was like the analogy of teaching a man to fish so he could eat for a life time, rather than handing the man a fish so he can eat for the day.

By being locally manufactured, the dependency on western countries for treatment would be greatly reduced, she said.

Roche chief executive William Burns said in a statement: "These new agreements highlight the positive contribution that the Technology Transfer Initiative is making to help strengthen and expand local manufacturing capabilities for HIV medicines in Africa.

Now entering its second year, the initiative reinforces Roche's commitment to find long-term, sustainable solutions to help increase access to healthcare in the world's poorest countries."

A team of Roche experts will work onsite at the manufacturing facilities in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe to help transfer the technology.

The companies will be able to produce saquinavir for supply throughout Ethiopia and Zimbabwe in addition to any country within sub-Saharan Africa or defined as "least developed" by the United Nations, encompassing 64 per cent of all people living with HIV/AIDS globally.

No patents will be filed on HIV antiretroviral medicines in these countries and manufacturers wishing to produce the generic would not be required to apply for a voluntary licence.

Varichem Pharmaceuticals director of regulatory affairs Archibald Chimuka said in a statement: "For us the benefits go beyond the production of saquinavir, it improves our entire technical and quality systems.

We are eager to work with Roche on this initiative which helps to meet the needs of our people suffering HIV, who simply otherwise would not have access to these badly needed medications."

Roche allegedly receives no profits from the venture, and would not disclose how much the company was putting into the good-will gesture.

By purely transferring the capability to produce the drug, Roche would have no say in the price of the drug and could not guarantee against counterfeiting, the spokeswoman said.

The Roche initiative follows other pharmaceutical company's initiatives in disease-burdened Africa to increase access to medicines and reduce costs for the patients, who would normally be hard hit by the considerable cost of drugs under patent.

Earlier this year, Merck and Co started filing registrations to market its HIV treatment Atripla (efavirenz, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate) in a number of countries in the developing world at a reduced cost.

Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has granted several voluntary licences to sub-Saharan African pharmaceutical companies for production of a variety of AIDS drugs.

More than 38 million people worldwide are estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS, of that, 24.5 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Roche introduced Invirase (saquinavir) in 1995 and was the world's first HIV protease inhibitor and allowed two different stages of the HIV lifecycle to be inhibited.

Roche recorded a strong growth in its HIV medications in 2006.

Invirase and Fortovase (saquinavir) saw a 28 per cent increase to 182m Swiss francs (€110m), as a result of an increase in the use of the recently introduced Invirase 500mg tablet.

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