Hyderabad: One of the largest single tenders for supply of anti-AIDS drugs—estimated at $400 million (Rs1,760 crore)—by the South African government, is expected to see multiple bidders from Indian drug makers, led by Cipla Ltd, and Aurobindo Pharma Ltd, already two of the biggest exporters of such medicines to Africa.
Other domestic pharmaceutical companies, including Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd, Lupin Ltd, Matrix Laboratories Ltd, and Hetero Drugs, are also likely to try and grab the business, the biggest tender for AIDS medicines by Johannesburg since a three-year, $470 million deal two years ago.
The current deal ends early next year and the South African health ministry is preparing for a similar tender to ensure the continuity of AIDS drugs—known as antire-trovirals or ARVs—to its hospitals. South Africa has the most number of HIV-infected people.
The biggest supplier of AIDS drugs in South Africa is Johannesburg-based Aspen Pharmacare Holdings. Other majors, such as GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. are also key players which sell ARVs there. Aspen and Cipla-Medpro, a joint venture between India-based Cipla and South Africa’s Medpro Pharmaceutica, were among the companies that won a part of the 2005 tender.
Amar Lulla, Cipla’s joint managing director, confirmed the company’s interest. “AIDS drugs contribute about 15% of Cipla’s total revenues. We are currently developing ARV formulations for children, and molecules. The global ARV drugs market is dominated by multinationals with patented drugs, but (their) drugs may cost 20 times more than the generic drugs” produced by Cipla and other Indian drug makers, Lulla said.
Aurobindo said it was keen too. “Aurobindo Pharma primarily targets the Americas and African region for antiretroviral supplies. We are preparing for the South African tenders, which will start in January 2008. There will be several other contenders too,” said P.V. Rama Prasad Reddy, chairman of the Hyderabad-based company.
Ranbaxy has a presence in South Africa through a tie-up with Community Investment Holdings. The joint venture, Sonke Pharmaceuticals, was formed to market and sell Ranbaxy’s generic antiretroviral drugs in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. Ranbaxy holds a 70% stake in the venture.
Matrix Laboratories, headed in Hyderabad, has an arrangement with Aspen through which an Indian joint venture company, Astrix Laboratories, will supply ARV bulk drugs, the key ingredients in AIDS drugs, to the Johannesburg partner.
Srinivas Reddy, director of marketing at Hetero Drugs, said his company was likely to participate in the tender.
State-owned Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals and the Pune-based Hindustan Antibiotics, which are being revived as part of a Rs3,240 crore plan that includes a push into the ARV market into Africa, however, may have to miss the tender, a government official said.
“The pharma public sector units will have to expand their manufacturing for ARVs as well as procure pre-qualification approvals from the World Health Organization (WHO) before they can enter the tender,” said a senior official at the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers, who requested anonymity. “But these may not be ready for this round of bidding.”
WHO, US President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief or PEPFAR programme, the Clinton Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other global agencies are estimated to fund nearly $4 billion flows into Africa to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
It is estimated that of the nearly 40 million people infected with HIV worldwide, 5.6 million, or about 14%, are in South Africa. Nearly a fifth of the adult population, aged between 15 and 49, is infected.
Johannesburg has an ambitious plan to spend as much as $6 billion on halving the rate of new HIV infections in the country by 2011 and providing treatment, care and support to at least 80% of people living with AIDS.