Crisis over Roche AIDS drug recall

Toby Anderson, 82, watches as his wife Amy, 83, divides his eight prescription drugs into a weekly schedule at their home in Sun City, Arizona.

TEXT OF STORY

Lisa Napoli: Regulators in Europe have suspended the license for the an AIDS-fighting drug called Viracept. The drug company Roche has recalled it, because it turns out something about the manufacturing process is creating a cancer-causing contaminant.

Until the problem is fixed, tens of thousands of AIDS patients are struggling to cope. From the health desk at WGBH, Helen Palmer has more.


Helen Palmer: Viracept's not a front-line AIDS drug in the West. But it's vital and cheap in the developing world, where there's a lack of alternatives.

Asia Russell: They're not always widely available, and the reason is largely cost.

Asia Russell of the AIDS advocacy group Health Gap — she says Viracept costs about 28 cents a day in poor countries. Alternatives cost three times as much.

Russell says Roche hasn't taken responsibility to ensure these patients are still getting life-saving drugs.

Russell: Roche needs to clean up its act and pay for the cost of switching these patients from Viracept to an alternative therapy.

Roche says it will pay "reasonable costs" to remedy the problem. The company's been talking to Pfizer, which also makes Viracept, about an alternative supply of the drug. But Pfizer says it's only licensed to sell Viracept in Canada, Japan and the U.S., where a day's supply costs about $10.

In Boston, I'm Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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