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Roche drops HIV research

14th July 2008

International pharmaceutical giant Roche has said it will cancel any further research on drugs to treat HIV.

hivbloodtest

In a blow to AIDS patients, specialists and activists, the company blamed disappointing results in clinical trials for the decision in a memo circulated in the industry this week.

The news comes after a series of failures in clinical trials of AIDS vaccines in recent months.

The compounds Roche had in development would have targeted HIV in two different ways, and the company said it had had high hopes for the drugs.

Swiss-based Roche has traditionally had a name as an innovator in the field of HIV medicine, rather than as one of the biggest producers of treatments for AIDS.

One of its drugs, Fuzeon, launched in 2003, is used as a salvage therapy, only after other drugs have failed.

But sales of Fuzeon, together with its other two HIV drugs, Viracept and Invirase, represented only about 160 million Swiss francs (US$157 million) in sales last year, giving it a far smaller share of global sales than companies like Gilead, Bristol-Myers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline.

Jenny Edge-Dallas, global leader for Roche’s HIV Franchise, said the company had now concluded that the new HIV drugs would provide no significant extra benefit to patients, compared with those already on the market.

Roche has already shifted its strategy to only developing medicines that provide a significant improvement on existing rivals.

Amid growing demand for value for money from governments and healthcare systems, Roche's decision to pull its HIV-related projects are an important setback for hopes of future treatment, given the constant need to develop new drugs.

The number of existing HIV patients who are developing resistance to existing drgs is rising rapidly.

AIDS activists said the news was extremely disappointing. According to Genevieve Edwards, spokeswoman for the Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK-based AIDS charity, HIV is the fastest-growing serious health condition in the UK, and one drug does not fit all for HIV.

The market for HIV medicines is complex, because many different drugs may be used in varying combinations, and demand is rising fastest in the poorest countries, limiting profitability.

Roche said it would continue to manufacture its existing AIDS medicines, diagnostic tests and treatments for HIV-related conditions.

 

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