By: FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. and HHS Assistant Secretary Jimmy Kolker
On World AIDS Day this year, tens of millions of people with HIV are now living healthy, productive lives because of access to safe and lower priced medicines. We rejoice in this achievement, because all people, no matter how rich or poor, deserve to have the medicines they need to live their lives in the best health possible.
We can truly see in our future an AIDS-Free generation because of the wide availability of prevention and treatment tools. But the availability of these drugs and diagnostic tools, especially in Africa, was never a given. Ten years ago, in 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) committed to support the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) by introducing an expedited review process to make generic and low-cost treatment more readily available for the most affected countries. PEPFAR requires antiretroviral drugs to be safe, effective, and of high quality and supports their distribution to people needing treatment around the globe. But meeting these requirements can be costly and time-consuming. Those suffering from AIDS cannot wait. The FDA, an agency that is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), applied the tentative approval process in order to increase dramatically the number of products approved for purchase and distribution by PEPFAR.
Thanks to the commitment of FDA scientists, as of today FDA has issued expedited approval decisions for 179 products, including 39 formulations specifically designed for children that allow flexible dosing across multiple weight bands and many innovative formulations, such as fixed-dose combinations and co-packaged products that improve adherence to treatment and reduce the risk of developing resistance. The 179 tentative approvals allowed PEPFAR to purchase products at a lower cost, leading to cost savings of hundreds of millions of dollars. These savings contributed to additional patients being able to receive treatment.
Unfortunately, too many countries lack the regulatory capacity to conduct product registrations in a timely manner. This makes it difficult for these countries to provide high-quality rapid HIV tests and treatment.
The FDA and the HHS have been working with the Department of State Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (S/GAC); the World Health Organization; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; and other organizations to help countries build both their health care systems and regulatory capacities.
Importantly, FDA has partnered with host country health ministries to help strengthen regulatory capacities in support of their public health programs. PEPFAR recently contributed $1.5 million in support of this FDA partnership to further regulatory system strengthening in the East African community.
With these improvements, countries battling HIV and AIDS can build the systems necessary to ensure that patients get the high-quality treatment they need, which one day will lead to the realization of an AIDS-free generation.
Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration
Jimmy Kolker is Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services