AIDS activists warned that a judge's ruling protecting a pharmaceutical company's patent on AZT means a cheaper, generic version of the AIDS drug won't be available until at least 2005.
"A generic form of AZT would have been much cheaper. . . . This is a major disappointment," said Evan Wilder of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power chapter in New York. AZT costs $2,200 a year per patient wholesale.U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard ruled Thursday that Burroughs Wellcome was the sole inventor of AZT. The company's exclusive patent on the drug is good for 12 more years.
AZT, or azidothymidine, is the most widely used of three U.S.-approved AIDS treatments.
Burroughs Wellcome, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., got approval in 1987 from the Food and Drug Administration to sell the drug, and later sued two generic drug makers when they asked government permission to make a version.
Barr Laboratories and Novopharm Ltd. had argued that scientists with the National Institutes of Health should be named co-inventors of AZT. Without their work, Burroughs Wellcome wouldn't have known AZT was effective against AIDS, the drug companies said.
And because NIH used public money on the research, the companies argued, Burroughs Wellcome cannot have an exclusive patent.
Burroughs Wellcome's general counsel said the issue in the patent infringement lawsuit was not lower drug costs, but drug development.
"The point is whether generic companies which spend little money or effort on basic research should have the ability to come in and profit from our discovery before the patents we own legally expire," Paul Holcombe Jr. said.
Patents protect successful, profitable drugs that pay for other research, he said.