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[RIO DE JANEIRO] The Brazilian Ministry of Health signed an agreement last week (4 July) with the pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories to reduce the price of its HIV/AIDS drug Kaletra by 29.5 per cent.

The deal will save the Brazilian government — which provides HIV/AIDS patients with free drugs — US$11.4 million per year.

At present, Kaletra — a combination of the drugs lopinavir and ritonavir — is the second most used antiretroviral drug in Brazil.

Under the agreement, the cost per patient per year for Kaletra is US$1,000.

The company will also offer to cut the price for 45 other low and low-middle income developing countries.

"This deal shows that we are disposed to trade with pharmaceutical laboratories, whenever the proposals correspond to the national interests," said Brazilian health minister, José Gomes Temporão, at the signing ceremony.

Heather Mason, Abbott's Latin America vice president, said, "The agreement symbolises what can be achieved when governments and companies negotiate with the interests of patients in mind."

The Brazilian government first threatened to issue a compulsory licence for Kaletra in June 2005. After four months of negotiation, Abbott dropped the price by 47 per cent.

According to this original deal, each Kaletra dose would cost US$1.04 until 2007. However, in the new deal, each tablet will cost 73 US cents in 2007 and 68 US cents in 2008.

In September, Brazil will begin to offer Kaletra in a new form that does not require refrigeration, and is taken only four times a day, rather than the present six doses. The number of doses is an important factor in patients' adhesion to the treatment.

The new form of the drug — tablets rather than capsules — will be given to around 32,000 patients, both children and adults. The Ministry of Health estimates there are around 600,000 HIV/AIDS patients in the country.

In May, the Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva issued a compulsory licence for Merck & Co's HIV/AIDS drug, Efavirenz, and ordered the importation of cheaper generic versions from India (see Brazil breaks patent on HIV/AIDS drug).