Press Release

ACT UP Confronts AIDS Drug Companies at 'POZ Life Expo'

Expansion of "Expanded Access Programs" Demanded



(New York) - On Saturday, May 31st, 300 hundred AIDS activists from New York, Philadelphia and Cleveland protested and participated in a giant die-in inside the Jacob Javits Convention Center, site of the POZ Life Expo, a major AIDS trade show and exposition travelling the United States.

Carrying placards proclaiming, "Release experimental drugs now" and "No lotteries, no limits, no lies", demonstrators demanded that AIDS drug companies make available promising experimental AIDS drugs now in development for people living with HIV/AIDS who have not been helped by current state-of-the-art AIDS therapies. Said ACT UP's Mark Hannay, "Many people with AIDS have managed to stay alive by keeping one step ahead of HIV. As the virus becomes resistant to one drug, they move onto the next one, in a never-ending battle to stay alive.."

One drug company, Glaxo-Wellcome, maker of AZT and 3TC, withdrew from the Expo due to activist pressure. According to their public statement " With the actions planned against the company at the New York Expo... the company elected to forego participation." The company is being pushed by many AIDS organizations to release its new experimental drug 1592 and its experimental protease inhibitor to people with AIDS who have exhausted their treatment options by making them available in expanded access programs.

Glaxo-Wellcome will make 1592 available only to 2500 people world wide. This is down sharply from the 32,000 people who received the 3TC when it was still an experimental drug. "Glaxo is trying to eliminate expanded access programs that have kept thousands of us alive this far," commented ACT_UP's Mark Milano. "Expanded access programs keep people alive a few months or a year - and maybe by then there's another treatment that will help."

"Drug company greed and obstinance is once again threatening the lives of thousands of people desperately ill with AIDS. They used to release new drugs prior to approval, but suddenly, over the past year and a half, the companies won't make their promising new experimental drugs widely available anymore," said Mark Milano, an HIV-positive member of ACT UP/New York. "While newly-approved therapies have indeed provided hope for tens of thousands of people living with AIDS, unfortunately many others have not benefited from these drugs, and they now need access to even newer forms of treatment."

Under pressure from AIDS activists, drug companies since the late 1980s have made promising, experimental drugs available to people who have failed conventional forms of treatment. Many people's lives have been saved or ameliorated as a result. However, with the recent release of the new AIDS drugs which have benefited many people living with HIV/AIDS, many drug companies have begun to severely restrict their expanded access programs for their even-newer AIDS drugs now in development. Patients and doctors now have to submit much paperwork and meet stringent criteria for a sharply decreasing number of program slots. Activists claim that drug companies simply want to maximize profit from their current AIDS drugs, and are delaying pursuit and distribution of better, newer drugs.

Other companies targeted at Saturday's demonstration included Abbott Laboratories and Gilead Sciences. Abbott Laboratories previously had a tiny expanded access program of less than 1000 for its protease inhibitor, ritonovir , allegedly because of its limited availability, but the company had sufficient stores of the drug to supply the drug to nearly every pharmacy in the nation within two weeks of its extraordinarily fast approval by the FDA. Abbott is developing a more powerful protease inhibitor, ABT 378, that activists want in expanded access by fall of 1997. Gilead Sciences has a drug in development that has already been put into hundreds of people, yet it too has no expanded access program.

"Expanded access programs were won by massive demonstrations by AIDS activists in the streets. This pressure made companies like Glaxo-Wellcome not think twice about offering large expanded access programs to tens of thousands of people. In the last year and a half the drug companies have seen the AIDS movement as weak which is why they have offered such tiny programs. However recent demonstrations like the "Crash the Market" demonstration on Wall Street March 24, 1997 by 700 activists which included civil disobedience by 73 people , and Saturdays demonstration, frightened Glaxo-Wellcome away from the Expo. This shows how Glaxo is suseptible to pressure. However more street actions will be required though to get access to these new drugs." according to ACT UP/NY member John Riley.

Activists indicated they have been meeting with various drug companies, including Glaxo-Wellcome, to discuss how to resolve this crisis, but that the manufacturers had offered little in the way of improvement. ACT UP members indicated they would continue targeting drug companies at other trade fairs and conferences until their expanded access programs were improved and expanded.


See also Glaxo Office Take-Over__See also GLAXO BLOCKS DRUG ACCESS__See also GLAXO BOYCOTT

See also Lower the Costs of Pharmaceuticals for PWAs__See also Despicable Pharmaceutical Profits

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