AIDS group crashes Bristol-Myers party, protests prices

December 20, 2000

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A band of AIDS activists Wednesday afternoon invaded the global
headquarters of drug giant Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., disrupting its Christmas party by shouting
allegations the company was price-gouging on its newest medicine against the HIV virus.

A spokesman for the nation's No. 3 drugmaker confirmed that members of the New York chapter
of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) had gotten inside its offices at 345 Park
Avenue, but said they were quickly ejected by company security officers.

The ACT-UP members staged the event at 2 p.m. EST to protest the price Bristol-Myers is charging
for a new "enteric" formulation of its drug Videx that is easier to take and easier on the
gastrointestinal tract.

The drug is a member of the family of anti-HIV medicines called reverse transcriptase inhibitors, is
used with other medicines to prevent the HIV virus from replicating.

"Four of us us got onto the 44th Floor, where we wanted to see the company's chief executive
officer, Charles Heimbold. But instead, we ran smack into a Christmas Party with food and
Christmas carols and never saw the CEO," Mark Milano, one of the protesters said in an interview.

Another four protesters raced through the third-floor offices of the company, distributing leaflets
and chanting "Greed-Death" before being escorted out, Milano said.

Milano said the new enteric formulation, a once-daily capsule that is easily swallowed, costs about
30 percent more than the original drug -- a bitter and unpleasant tablet that must be chewed.

"The capsule is easier to take and doesn't cause diarrhea like the old version," he said, but alleged it
was unfair for Bristol-Myers to charge so much more for it.

Bristol-Myers licensed Videx from the federal government and then conducted human clinical trials
of the compound, also known by its chemical name ddI, before launching it in the United States a
decade ago.

Milano said AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs) set up by many states to provide cut-rate
anti-HIV drugs to poor patients cannot afford the higher-priced form of Videx.

The Bristol-Myers spokesman said the wholesale price of a one-month supply of the enteric form of
Videx is $237, but could not immediately provide the cost of the older form of the medicine.

The spokesman said the company gives 18 percent discounts to ADAP programs on Videx as well
as on the company's other anti-HIV drug, Zerit, and has spent "tens of millions of dollars"
conducting research for improved versions of the drugs.

Wednesday's incident comes the same month rival drugmaker Pfizer Inc. agreed to supply its AIDS
drug Diflucan to the South African government for free, following pressure from activists to make
the hot-selling drug available to the poorest country in the developing world.

Members of ACT-UP had invaded Pfizer's shareholders' meeting in April and staged protests
outside the Manhattan hotel where it was held.

 

December 21, 2000
We have to add that next day, BMS offered ADAPs a 20% price cut and a pricefreeze for 2001.

 

 



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