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China makes its first antiretroviral drugs for treating AIDS

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7375.1257/a (Published 30 November 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:1257
  1. Jane Parry
  1. Hong Kong

    China's first domestically produced combination drug treatment for AIDS is due to go on sale by the end of 2002, after the manufacturer, Shanghai Desano Biopharmaceuticals Company, based in Shanghai, recently got government approval for the production of didanosine, stavudine, and nevirapine.

    The company expects to get approval for manufacture of zidovudine by the end of the year.

    The company estimates that the cocktail will cost patients between 3000 yuan (£230; $360; €360) and 5000 yuan a year, a tenth of the price of imported drugs, which have a tiny market at present, despite UN estimates of 1.5 million HIV positive people in China at the end of 2001.

    All the drugs can be made in China by Desano without infringing patents, explained Cynthia Carras, spokeswoman for Desano's marketing department.

    “For didanosine, although Bristol-Myers Squibb has formulation and usage patents in China, our formulation is water soluble and theirs isn't, so the process is sufficiently different for the patents not to overlap. Stavudine has no usage patent in China, and our process is also different. Nevirapine is not patent protected in China, and the exclusive distribution licence for zidovudine expired at the end of 2001.

    “The State Drug Administration of China is very concerned about this issue and is eager to try all legal means to produce these drugs,” she added.

    Patients in China with AIDS are the target market, and Desano has no plans at this stage to export the drugs. Desano works on the basis of Ministry of Health figures of an estimated million HIV positive people in China and between 100000 and 200000 with AIDS.

    “Our production capacity will be sufficient to treat 500000 people a year, but we expect that by the end of 2003 we will have sold treatments for 20000 people,” said Ms Carras.

    Even though the drugs cost a fraction of their imported counterparts, the price will still put them out of the reach of many rural people infected with HIV or with AIDS, unless the government subsidises treatment.

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