Deal reached for low-cost generic drug to prevent HIV infection

Some 1.5 million new HIV infections occurred last year. PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

GENEVA (AFP) - A deal has been reached to allow for distribution of a low-cost generic version of a long-term preventative treatment against HIV in low-income countries where most of the world's infections occur, the advocacy group Unitaid and the Medicines Patent Pool announced on Thursday (July 28).

The deal will see ViiV Healthcare, a subsidiary of British pharmaceutical giant GSK, allow selected manufacturers to produce generic versions of Cabotegravir LA, its long-acting pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment for HIV.

The deal will provide access to the injectable version of Cabotegravir, which has been shown to provide two months of protection against infection, in 90 countries where over 70 per cent of all new HIV infections occurred in 2020, said Unitaid.

"Access to an effective long-acting HIV prevention option could significantly contribute to the goal of ending HIV transmission and ending the epidemic by 2030," said Unitaid spokesman Herve Verhoosel.

"Efforts to increase access to Cabotegravir LA for PrEP will be especially impactful for groups that experience particularly high rates of infection, such as men who have sex with men and sex workers," he added.

The news comes a day after a new report presented at the International AIDS Conference in Montreal, Canada, found that the global fight against HIV has stalled because of shrinking resources caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and other crises.

Some 1.5 million new infections occurred last year - more than a million over global targets of fighting the virus.

Long-lasting Cabotegravir injections only recently became available, and have been shown to be much more effective than an oral version that needed to be taken daily.

But the cost - the price of a year's treatment cost US$22,000 (S$30,000) in the United States earlier this year - was an obstacle for widespread rollout in all but high-income countries.

Unitaid is a global health initiative that works on ensuring equitable access to medical innovations in low- and middle-income countries.

The Medicines Patent Pool, founded by Unitaid and United Nations-backed, works to licence needed medicines for generic distribution in low- and middle-income countries.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.