Government Makes Cipro Deal

The government reached an agreement Wednesday to buy 100 million doses of anthrax treatment Cipro from pharmaceutical giant Bayer Corp.

The price will be 95 cents per tablet. 

"The antibiotic is expected to be available by January 1, 2002," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.  "Resources on hand by January, as a result of this, will be able to treat 12 million people immediately for anthrax exposure."

Cipro currently retails for $4-$5 per pill, but the government had been buying the pill at $1.77 per dose. Bayer said it would rotate the government's inventory, as part of this agreement, to assure the American public a continuously fresh supply of Cipro. 

Funds for the purchase are included in the $1.6 billion emergency proposal made by President Bush Oct. 17.  Congress has yet to pass the plan.

German-based Bayer holds the patent on Cipro, currently being taken by thousands of postal workers as well as dozens of Senate office workers to ward off the anthrax infection.

Anthrax has shown up in Congress, at mail facilities throughout the country and media outlets. Wednesday, the White House confirmed that its remote mail processing facility had also tested positive for anthrax contamination.

Federal health officials want to stockpile the antibiotic in case anthrax spreads to the wider public. Cipro would be only a portion of the treatment for an outbreak.  The rest comes from a cocktail of antibiotics, in which Cipro would be used for five days of a 60-day regimen.  Currently, 18.6 million Cipro doses are available in the nation's emergency reserve, which would enable immediate treatment of about 2 million people when combined with other antibiotics.

"This agreement means that a much larger supply of this important pharmaceutical product will be available if needed," Secretary Thompson said.  "The beneficial price also means that we can have more funds available to assist state and local health responders to be ready for all eventualities. 

The agreement also stipulates that if the government purchases a second order of 100 million tablets, they will get a rate at 85 cents per tablet.  A third order would cost 75 cents.

Thompson had threatened to ask Congress for a patent waiver to allow production of a generic copycat of Cipro if Bayer did not lower its price.

Bayer has also reached a deal with the Canadian government to deliver Cipro for $1.30 per pill. Canada had earlier threatened to suspend Bayer's Cipro patent and buy the medication from a generic producer instead.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.