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Gilead, Merck to Market New AIDS Pill in Poor Nations
 
 
  Aug. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Gilead Sciences Inc. and Merck & Co. said they've reached an agreement to distribute a new once-a-day pill combining three of the most frequently used AIDS drugs to developing countries at a reduced price.
 
The pill, called Atripla, will be manufactured by Gilead, and distributed by Merck, said Joe Steele, Foster City, California-based Gilead's vice president for international operations. The drug should be available in many of the 94 countries covered by the agreement by year-end, he said.
 
Atripla has several features that should make it more convenient for patients in developing countries. It allows patients to take just one pill a day, making it easier for them to avoid missing doses. It doesn't need to be refrigerated and it can be taken without food or water, Steele said in an interview today.
 
``Right now there are lot of barriers to good care in the developing world and adherence to therapy is extremely important,'' Steele said. ``If you interrupt the therapy by missing a day, the virus can develop resistance. The great benefit is getting a full day's therapy in a single tablet you take once a day.''
 
Substantial Discount
 
AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since it was first identified in 1981. The United Nations estimates 38.6 million people are living with the disease today, the vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa, where available treatments are limited.
 
While final pricing hasn't yet been determined, Atripla will be sold at ``a no-profit price'' representing a substantial discount over the drug's $1,150.88 a month U.S. wholesale price, said James Loduca, a Gilead spokesman, in an interview today.
 
Atripla will be a white tablet in developing countries to distinguish it from a salmon-colored version that the Food and Drug Administration approved last month for sale in the U.S., said Loduca. The color-coding discourages re-importation of drugs from places where the cost is discounted to countries where consumers pay full market price, he said.
 
Atripla is composed of Gilead's Viread and Emtriva medicines and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Sustiva. Merck markets Sustiva as Stocrin outside the U.S., Canada and certain European countries.
 
Today's agreement covers 94 developing countries in Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia which the companies see as having the highest need for the drug. Gilead and its partners are working out deals for other parts of Europe, as well as China, India, Thailand and other parts of Asia, Steele said.
 
Atripla was approved for U.S. sale by the Food and Drug Administration on July 12. The companies plan to file for approval in Canada in September, Steele said.
 
Today's agreement was announced after the close of regular trading. Shares of Gilead rose 19 cents to $62.71 at 4 p.m. in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading. Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based Merck fell 73 cents to $40.60 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.
 
 
 
 
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