NEW YORK -- The federal government has approved tests of an experimental and potentially expensive AIDS drug that could prolong the lives of patients with drug-resistant strains of HIV.
Dubbed Fuzeon by its developers, Roche Group and Trimeris Inc., the drug won a priority, six-month review from the Food and Drug Administration. The companies hope to put Fuzeon on the market by spring.
"Everyone is so pleased about the drug itself," said Martin Delaney, founding director of Project Inform, an advocacy organization. "It is such a significant development. But we are terribly apprehensive about the cost."
Roche, based in Switzerland, and Trimeris, of Durham, N.C., won't discuss pricing details until the drug is approved, but say Fuzeon is complicated to produce and will be expensive. Experts predict a cost of $10,000 to $15,000 a year per patient.
The most expensive AIDS drugs now available cost about $7,500 a year, although some combination treatments approach $15,000 in annual costs.
Fuzeon's cost should be kept in perspective, said Dr. James Thommes, the drug's medical director at Roche, saying that it keeps people from expensive hospital stays and prolongs their lives.
"No one wants drug companies to stop looking at ways to treat AIDS" because of expense issues, he said.
Cash-strapped AIDS assistance programs are already worried they might not be able to afford Fuzeon. Roche and Trimeris also have said they may not be able to make enough Fuzeon to meet initial demand.
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