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Fighting TB – Drug-resistant epidemic

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Eli Lilly & Co. will work with the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders to offer tuberculosis drugs at a discount in Russia and other spots around the world, the Wall Street Journal reported July 12.

Tuberculosis was almost eradicated in the 1940s, but since then new, drug-resistant strains of the disease have emerged. Cases of the new TB have increased alarmingly around the world, particularly among populations that are both malnourished and overcrowded, and sometimes in conjunction with AIDS.

The Russian prison system is one such environment. Public health officials estimate that about 100,000 of Russia’s 1 million prisoners have the disease, including about 25,000 with drug-resistant strains.

Lilly’s drugs will probably be used in a pilot project to treat and monitor about 1,000 Russian prisoners and some civilians. The project may eventually be extended to other parts of Russia, as well as Latvia, Estonia, Peru, the Philippines and other places where drug-resistant TB is becoming a health crisis.

The high price of drugs has been a major problem in controlling the epidemic. The most resistant strains require a “cocktail” of multiple drugs, which can cost up to 100 times more than the medication needed for less resistant strains.

Lilly would likely provide some quantity of two of its drugs for free, and sell more at market price, which would have the effect of bringing the market price down. The partnership will also include negotiations with generic drug makers.

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