June 24th, 1997 NEW YORK CITY AIDS activists from ACT UP/NY have just been arrested following their seizure of the investor relations office of Glaxo-Wellcome on Park Avenue to protest the pharmaceutical giant's criminally inadequate AIDS drug development and expanded access programs. The takeover by a group of ACT_UP members began this morning at 9:15 AM. Seven demonstrators were arrested after holding the office for an hour and a half.
Demonstrators are angry at Glaxo's plans for an expanded access program for a new drug "1592" to begin in July for 2,500 people worldwide. It is widely believed a minimum of 10,000 people in the United States alone need immediate access to this potentially life-saving drug. Demonstrators demanded a written commitment from top company officials to immediately launch an expanded access program open to all in need for abacavir (1592) and the new protease inhibitor (141 W94). Activists also demanded the company adequately test the drugs in pregnant and non-pregnant women. Scientists have found differences between men and women in dosing of a significant number of drugs. Company officials refused to meet the demands of the demonstrators.
Glaxo-Wellcome is becoming a target of many AIDS organizations worldwide. The Canadian group, AIDS Action NOW, demonstrated Thursday, June 19th in Toronto at a Glaxo plant that just opened, demanding a larger expanded access program for "1592". The San Francisco board of supervisors is slated to vote on a resolution calling on Glaxo to provide "1592" for all people with AIDS in San Francisco who need it. In addition, a growing number of AIDS organizations have called for a boycott against Glaxo. Groups as far away as Israel and Argentina have signed on to the boycott. Even the new White House AIDS czar Sandy Thurman is attempting to negotiate with Glaxo for larger supplies of "1592".
Glaxo-Wellcome has been a major manufacturer of AIDS drugs since the early days of the epidemic. Activists charge that they have been price-gouging from the beginning. The new drug "1592", already proven stronger than its predecessors AZT and Epivir (3TC), will replace both drugs. According to Bill Bahlman of ACT UP/New York, "Glaxo-Wellcome's slow development of '1592' is due to the pharmaceutical giant's desire to squeeze the very last profit dollars out of its cash cows AZT and 3TC until their patents run out." Thus far, Glaxo has reaped an astonishing $2.54 billion in sales of AZT. And while sales of AZT and 3TC skyrocketed in 1996, Glaxo slapped a 3% price increase on these overpriced drugs last fall. They now retail for nearly $3,800 and $3,100 per year respectively. Activists also demand the company drastically lower these prices immediately.