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Anglo in talks to buy Aids drugs from Cipla

Indian drugmaker Cipla Ltd is in talks with South African mining giant Anglo American to supply it with generic versions of anti-AIDS drugs, top officials of the two companies said on Monday.

Anglo American is the biggest company in South Africa and about a quarter of the 134 000 workers it employs along with group firm AngloGold are HIV-positive, though only around 2,5% will need immediate treatment.

The talks come more than a year after Cipla grabbed international headlines with an offer to supply poor countries with a triple-drug anti-Aids cocktail at $350 per patient per year — one-thirtieth of prices then charged by multinational drugmakers.

The offer sparked price cuts by the furious multinationals.

”We have arranged a meeting with Cipla’s local company Cipla Medpro on Wednesday and we will take our discussions forward then,” Anglo American’s senior vice president Brian Brink said in Johannesburg.

Anglo American announced on August 6 it planned to start distributing anti-Aids drugs to its HIV-positive staff.

Brink said the talks would focus on which drugs Cipla could provide, the quality of the drug and assured supply, and the price offered.

”We want to get the best quality drug. We are aware that some generic versions of branded Aids drugs have been registered in South Africa,” he said.

He added that Anglo American would also approach India’s top drugmaker by sales, Ranbaxy Laboratories, to see what it could offer.

Cipla supplies its cheap anti-Aids drugs to more than 35 countries, mainly in Africa.

In March, it was named by the World Health Organisation as one of the preferred international suppliers of anti-Aids drugs.

Indian patent laws allows drugmakers such as Cipla and Ranbaxy to manufacture drugs under patent internationally as long as they use a process that differs from the original.

LEGAL HURDLES

Cipla Chairman Yusuf Hamied said his company’s offer to Anglo American would include the triple drug cocktail, at a maximum price of $350 per patient per year.

Cipla has one generic anti-Aids drug registered in South Africa so far, a copy of GlaxoSmithKline’s lamivudine.

Apart from lamivudine, the cocktail contains stavudine, whose patents are controlled by Bristol-Myers Squibb, and nevirapine, originally from Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim.

Hamied said it was unclear whether generic drugmakers needed to obtain licences from multinationals to sell their copies in the South African market.

In April last year, multinational drugmakers withdrew a case seeking to prevent cheap generics from entering South Africa.

”Our registration for lamivudine implies that the South African ministry of health has allowed us to sell the drug there. The issue of patents is not their responsibility,” he said.

”We need some clarity from the South African government about whether we can supply these drugs when they are under patent, and whether these patents are still valid after the MNCs withdrew their court case in April 2001.”

”We will always abide by the laws of the land,” he added.

For its part, Anglo American said it would take legal opinion on the issue of licences.

”We will respect intellectual property rights, and this is something that has to be taken into consideration in any supply deal,” said Brink.

Shares in the drugmaker, India’s second largest pharmaceutical company by market share, closed down 0,62% at 918,30 rupees, while the Bombay benchmark index ended flat. – Reuters

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