Gates is Positioning for More Affordable AIDS Drugs

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, better known as PEPFAR has done a great deal of work to drive down the cost of HIV/AIDS drugs. In a 2013 report, the agency claimed a “striking decline in treatment costs over time,” noting that those costs have decreased from over $1,100 to $338 annually.

We won’t get into the minutiae of how those annual costs break down. We will, however, get into the fact that although PEPFAR’s reported $338 average annual cost is some 70 percent lower in 2013 than it was in previous years, it’s still out of reach for many HIV/AIDS patients. To help increase accessibilty to those much needed drugs, the Gates Foundation has jumped in with a $5 million grant to drive prices down even further.

Related: Gates Foundation: Grants for Global Health

The $5 million grant was awarded to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) professor B. Frank Gupton to support a project to discover cheaper ways to manufacture the HIV and AIDS drugs tenofovir and darunavir. The project is led by Gupton and is working in partnership with the Clinton Health Access Initiative. This project is part of the larger Medicine for All Initiative, that works to discover ways in which pharmaceuticals can be manufactured more efficiently and at a lower cost.  

From vaccine discovery to novel approaches to HIV/AIDS treatment, the Gates Foundation has a history of funding some pretty interesting projects in this space. Its $5 million give to VCU is no exception because it’s focusing on not only lowering the cost of first-line HIV/AIDS treatments, but their more expensive second-line counterparts as well.

Related: Have Funders Forgotten About AIDS?

The problem, Dr. Gupton explains, is that over time, HIV patients may develop a resistance to the more readily available and less expensive first-line treatments such as tenofovir. That’s where the second-line of defense comes in with drugs like darunavir. However, second line treatments such as darunvir are more expensive and are not as readily available as first-line treatments, thereby making them “prohibitively expensive for many patients,” according to Dr. Gupton.

It’s good to see the Gates Foundation jumping back into the HIV/AIDS game. Not that it ever left, but prior to VCU’s $5 million, the foundation had only awarded around $8 million in HIV/AIDS related grants so far this year compared to nearly $46 million in related grants it awarded during the same time last year.