HIV drug Kaletra appears on Russian black market Posted 12/06/2020

There are several reports of a black market in Russia emerging for the HIV drug Kaletra, following claims that it can be used to treat COVID-19.

Kaletra (Iopinavir/Ritonavir) is an anti-viral drug used in the treatment of HIV, developed by AbbVie. The combination treatment is taken as a tablet, capsule or solution.

Early studies suggested the drug could be effective in treating COVID-19, with doctors in Japan and Thailand even reporting using it in clinical practice. The Israeli government also announced that it would force AbbVie to license its patents for the drug, causing AbbVie to cease enforcing its patents entirely.

In Russia, the Ministry of Health recommended it as a possible treatment, but later added that its efficacy was uncertain.

Despite recent clinical trial results showing no benefit from the drug in COVID-19 patients [1], it appears a black market for the drug has already emerged in Russia, which is distributed by the government for free to HIV-positive patients.

Prices for Kaletra from online traders have increased by over four times, to over US$50 per box. Traders claim people are mainly buying in order to resell them, where prices can fetch twice that price.

Pharmacies are also reporting an increase in demand. They say that although supplies of generic versions of the drug are stable, the originator product seems to be in short supply.

The director of H-Clinic in St Petersburg, which specializes in infectious diseases, told Reuters:

‘We have a van coming from the pharmaceutical company, and everything in it has already been claimed in orders. There were up to 120 calls a day’.

Kaletra is produced in Russia by R-Pharm (in an agreement with AbbVie) and is supplied to pharmacies and AIDS clinics. Over 1,500 packs were sold by such outlets in March 2020, compared to just 34 packs in March 2019. The Ministry of Health in Russia has not issued a comment on the situation.

Currently, the most promising treatment for COVID-19 is remdesivir, which is manufactured by Gliead Sciences. Gilead has recently announced partnerships with generics manufacturers in order to increase supply of the drug [2].

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References
1. Cao B, Wang Y, Wen D. A trial of Lopinavir–Ritonavir in adults hospitalized with severe Covid-19. N Engl J Med. 2020;382:1787-99. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa2001282
2. GaBI Online - Generics and Biosimilars Initiative. Gilead partners with generic makers to ramp up production of remdesivir [www.gabionline.net]. Mol, Belgium: Pro Pharma Communications International; [cited 2020 Jun 12]. Available from: www.gabionline.net/Generics/News/COVID-19-drugs-Gilead-s-remdesivir-and-Algernon-s-alternative

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Source: Reuters

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