Russia spent 7 billion rubles on a “placebo for HIV”

Over the past five years, the Russian government has spent almost 7 billion rubles for the purchase of Elpida, a domestic drug that is said to treat HIV. As The Insider reports in its investigation, “Elpida” is not used in other countries, has not proven its effectiveness according to the required international standards, and patient organizations have a lot of questions about it.

The drug was created and brought to the market by the Russian company Himrar, which had not developed drugs before. Until 2013, the manufacturer conducted only three small human trials – the number of volunteers did not exceed a few dozen, and almost all of them were healthy. The only placebo-controlled trial of Elpida was conducted on 14 subjects.

Before the start of sales, the drug was studied in less than 200 people. The results of such tests by world standards are not sufficiently reliable. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes that several hundred people should take part in them. This will help both avoid statistical error and understand how the drug works in patients with different virus mutations.

In 2019, the Ministry of Health recommended the drug only as a replacement for the most preferred drug in the regimen for HIV patients, efavirenz, if it is not suitable for patients. The department also warned against taking “Elpidy” with many medicines. However, a year later “Elpida” appeared in the preferred regimen, and information about its interaction with other drugs has disappeared from the recommendations.

Commercial success Elpidy is associated with the activities of Alexei Mazus, the chief HIV specialist of the Russian Ministry of Health. His professional work is often criticized: he does not believe in condom protection against HIV, denies the need for treatment of drug addicts, and promotes mass compulsory HIV testing.

Himrar established Viriom on April 30, 2009. In the same day businessman Ilya Tsigelnitsky, an acquaintance of Mazus, registered LLC Medbiotest in Moscow, which later received 5% in the authorized capital of Viriom. In 2019, Khimrar gave Mazus’ son Matvey a third in its subsidiary Avivir, which resold Korean coronavirus antibody tests. In less than three years of existence, the company has only directly sold tests to Russian hospitals for more than 150 million rubles.

In 2021, Russia entered the top five countries in the world in terms of the number of newly diagnosed cases of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), according to data from the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) and the European Center for Disease Prevention (ECDC). Russia accounted for 3.9% of all HIV infections. According to this indicator, Russia is ahead of Tanzania (3.6%), Uganda (3.6%), Zambia (2.5%) and Kenya (2.3%).

Currently, 1% of Russian citizens have been diagnosed with HIV: a total of 1.5 million people are infected. According to the state strategy to combat the spread of HIV in Russia, another 660,000 new cases are expected by 2030. According to this indicator, Russia is 3-15 times ahead of European countries: in Germany, for example, HIV was detected in 0.1% of the population aged 15-49 years, in Italy – in 0.2%, in Spain – in 0.4% , and in Portugal – 0.5%.

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