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Merck Cutting Efavirenz Price 20% in Developing World
  march 7, 2006
Filed at 1:20 a.m. ET
LONDON (Reuters) - Merck & Co. is cutting the price charged for its Stocrin anti-AIDS drug by 20 percent in poor countries, bringing it within ``pennies'' of the cost of generics, the U.S. drug maker said on Tuesday.
The lower price reflects new efficiencies and cost savings resulting from improved manufacturing processes at a new factory for making the medicine in Australia, the company said.
Merck has come under pressure to cut the cost of the life-saving drug following moves earlier this year by the Clinton Foundation to help producers in India and South Africa make cheap generic versions of the medicine.
Merck's new price for the 600 milligram formulation of Stocrin is 76 U.S. cents per day, or $277.40 per patient a year, down from 95 cents, in the least developed countries of the world and those hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The scheme backed by former President Bill Clinton offers the same drug, known generically as efavirenz, for $240 a year.
But this lower price is limited to large orders and does not include shipping and insurance, which Merck estimates adds around 10 percent to the final cost.
``At the end of the day, the prices we're making available are within pennies of those offered by the generic producers,'' said Merck spokesman Jeffrey Sturchio.
Stocrin is often used in patients who have become resistant to first-line medications or cannot tolerate the side effects. Campaigners have been pushing hard to bring down the cost of such second-line therapies, after a successful fight in the past five years to slash the price of cheaper initial medications.
Like other HIV/AIDS drugs, Stocrin is given in combination with other antiretrovirals in order to minimize the risk of the virus developing resistance to treatment.
Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said the Merck move was ''very welcome'' and he hoped it would be part of a continuing trend to bring down prices further.
Cutting costs is crucial if the global community is to achieve its goal of getting universal access to HIV treatment and care for all who need it by 2010.
Merck Chief Executive Richard Clark said the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based company hoped to be able to reduce the price of Stocrin again as efficiencies continued to improve.
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