Yusuf M. Hamied has been shaking up the global drug business this year. On Feb. 6, his Bombay-based drugmaker, Cipla Ltd., offered Doctors Without Borders the chance to buy a drug cocktail to fight AIDS for $1 per day per patient--about 5% of the cost of similar drugs sold by pharmaceutical giants. The only proviso: that it be distributed free to patients.
The offer sparked a price war for AIDS drugs, with companies such as GlaxoSmithKline (GSK ) and Merck & Co. (MRK ) slashing the price of their AIDS cocktails to $600 a year from about $10,000. At the end of April, 39 pharmaceutical companies withdrew a suit they had filed in a Johannesburg court against generic companies such as Cipla that supply cheaper AIDS drugs.
Hamied plans to keep fighting the giants over AIDS treatment. "Not even 100 Ciplas can meet the demand for these drugs," says Hamied, 64, who holds a PhD in chemistry from Cambridge University. Cipla, founded by Hamied's physician father in 1935, is India's No. 3 drug company, with sales of $170 million. It can make cheaper versions of other companies' drugs because India does not take part in the international patent regime. But Hamied will face a tough test in 2005, when the World Trade Organization's patent rules take effect, and he'll have to figure out how to compete with the big companies on their own terms.