HHS reaches deal with maker of Cipro on cutting price to government

Wednesday, October 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal officials reached agreement Wednesday on a lower price for the antibiotic Cipro, the most popular anti-anthrax drug.

Bayer Corp., which makes the drug, agreed to sell the government 100 million pills at 95 cents each. That's a savings of $95 million from Bayer's original price, the Department of Health and Human Services said.

``This agreement means that a much larger supply of this important pharmaceutical product will be available if needed,'' Thompson said in a statement.

``Bayer is fully committed to supplying America in its war on bioterrorism,'' said Bayer president Helge H. Wehmeier.

Bayer holds the patent on Cipro, the antibiotic being prescribed to thousands of postal workers as a precaution to protect them from anthrax infection _ as well as to many other people exposed to anthrax-containing letters.

In the initial treatments for potential exposure to anthrax, Cipro has been the drug of choice because it is more likely to fight off an unknown strain of the bacterium _ if one should show up.

So far, the anthrax that has turned up in letters responds to all major antibiotics, and health officials have said that people taking preventive treatment may switch to another drug.

The money to buy the extra Cipro is pending before Congress now as part of a larger bioterrorism response bill.

Under the new agreement, Bayer agreed to sell a second order of 100 million tablets at 85 cents each, and a third order at 75 cents, if it is determined that further orders are needed.

Sen. Charles Schumer, who has argued that Congress should remove Bayer's exclusive rights to make Cipro, praised Wednesday's deal.

``I hope that Bayer will consider extending the same kind of civic mindedness to the private consumer,'' he added.

Federal health officials are looking to increase a government stockpile of the antibiotic in case wider treatment is needed. Thompson said Bayer says it can make 200 million pills within 60 days, enough to treat 12 million people.

Bayer just promised the Canadian government to deliver emergency supplies of Cipro, in the event of a bioterrorism attack there, for $1.30 a pill. That agreement apparently ends Canada's threat to suspend Bayer's Cipro patent and buy the medication from a generic producer instead.

Before reaching the deal, Thompson had said he would consider going to Congress to seek a waiver of the patent to allow production of a generic medication.

In a full-page ad in The Washington Post, Bayer said it was substantially increasing production of Cipro. ``We will meet this threat head on,'' the ad said.