The health ministry of Brazil recently signed an agreement with US-based Bristol-Myers Squibb to obtain its patented production
technology to locally develop the antiretroviral drug atazanavir sulfate. The drug is used, together with others, to treat
HIV-infected patients in Brazil.
The process of transferring the drug's production technology will take place until the end of 2016, while domestic production
is planned to begin by 2017, according to the country's health ministry. Before the patent for atazanavir (held by Bristol-Myers
Squibb) expires by the end of 2017, Brazilians will be trained by experts at the company's USA-based facility on how to produce
the drug. The drug will be produced at a Rio de Janeiro-based pharmaceutical plant named Farmanguinhos, operated by Oswaldo
Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz).
Atazanavir is distributed to approximately 45,000 patients by the public health system, which corresponds to approximately
20% of all the HIV-infected patients cared for under this system. According to data from the health ministry, the government
of Brazil spends approximately R$86 million (US$41.4 million) annually to purchase the drug abroad. When atazanavir, which
is taken daily by patients, starts being produced domestically, the country is expected to save a total of R$385 million (US$185.3
million) in five years, the ministry added.
Starting in 2013, the drug will be distributed nationwide inside locally-produced packaging. Output from the new domestic
plant will add one more drug to the locally-produced drug list for HIV-infected patients, totaling up to 11 drugs produced
in Brazil from the 20 medications offered at no cost to HIV-infected men and women in Brazil. According to government figures,
some 127 million capsules will be produced annually in Brazil by 2017.
Atazanavir is a protease inhibitor. This class of drugs is used to treat or prevent infection by viruses. Atazanavir is administered
in combination with two other antiretroviral agents to prevent the risk of developing drug-resistant mutated viruses.
According to the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), the plan is to meet at least 50% of the demand for atazanavir sulfate
by 2015. Fiocruz says this deal guarantees that Farmanguinhos will set a final price for the drug that is 5% lower than the
The Brazilian government will not pay for the technology but guarantees purchasing the drug from Bristol-Myers Squibb until
the end of the deal in 2017. According to the health ministry's AIDS department, this is the first deal of its kind for developing
domestic production of a drug whose patent has not yet expired.
The Brazilian Interdisciplinary Aids Association (ABIA) disagrees with the details of the deal, and has questioned the need
for the government to pay such a high price for a drug that will only be produced in 2017. The health ministry, on the other
hand, says that prices will drop gradually. Minister Alexandre Padilha has publicly defended new deals with private laboratories
in order to maintain the local HIV/Aids treatment program, which cares for approximately 217,000 Brazilians.