Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Magic Johnson promotes HIV drug

Ads are geared toward urban blacks

By Alex Polier
The Associated Press

NEW YORK - As competition among makers of AIDS drugs increases, GlaxoSmithKline is using perhaps America's best-known HIV carrier to spread awareness among urban blacks of treatment methods and the company's products.

Magic Johnson's image is being splashed on billboards, subway posters and full-page ads in newspapers and magazines.

The ads include photos of a robust-looking Mr. Johnson and feature messages such as, "Staying healthy is about a few basic things: A positive attitude, partnering with my doctor, taking my medicine every day."

The market in HIV treatments with its drug Combivir, GlaxoSmithKline said its campaign is being conducted in cities with the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection among blacks, including New York; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Miami; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Philadelphia; Houston; Atlanta; and Newark, N.J.

The campaign also includes educational ads and a speaking tour by Mr. Johnson. It is similar to campaigns that have used athletes, movie stars and other celebrities to promote awareness about and specific drugs for arthritis, depression and other conditions.

But the GlaxoSmithKline campaign is the first of its kind for HIV, which has created particularly sensitive issues of price and profit for the pharmaceutical industry.

"The new wave of this disease is moving toward minorities, specifically African-Americans," said Peter Hare, vice president of GlaxoSmithKline's HIV business unit. "More African-Americans are dying from AIDS than white people. So, from a business perspective, if you want more patients, you have to focus on the African-American community."

Mr. Johnson, diagnosed with HIV 11 years ago, does not have full-blown AIDS. The basketball Hall of Famer takes a combination of GlaxoSmithKline and non-GlaxoSmithKline drugs, including Combivir, the most commonly prescribed HIV drug and one of GlaxoSmithKline's best sellers.

New alternatives, including generics, are turning what was once a limited market into one of fierce competition. Products such as Crixivan and Stocrin made by Merck & Co., and Kaletra and Norvir, made by Abbott Laboratories, pose a threat to GlaxoSmithKline's profits.

GlaxoSmithKline still controls about 50 percent of the market for HIV drugs, with sales topping $1.1 billion in 2001, the most recent year for which comprehensive figures are available.

"So if anyone complies with their treatment, or if new African-Americans start using HIV drugs, there will be some benefit for us," Mr. Hare said. "But this campaign is beneficial for everyone. There is something in it for African-Americans with HIV, for doctors and, yes, something in it for Magic and for GlaxoSmithKline."

AIDS is the leading cause of death for blacks between the ages of 24 and 44.

One in 50 black men and one in 160 black women are believed to be HIV-positive. About one in three don't now they have it.

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