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GENEVA (AP) – Drugs that are a last hope for some tuberculosis sufferers are being produced at a fraction of their original price after a group of international health agencies coordinated purchasing, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

The price of some of the drugs, which are used to treat strains of the disease that are resistant to more common treatments – has fallen by up to 96 percent, according to WHO, Harvard Medical School and the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Bulk buying of one drug, capreomycin, cut the price of a dose from $3.36 to 14 cents, while competition drove the price of a second, ofloxacin, down from $2.60 to 33 cents.

The three institutions published the results of their work to combat “market failures in tuberculosis control” in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

Scientists estimate that 1-2 percent of TB cases – as many as 330,000 a year – are multidrug-resistant, which means they are resistant to the common treatment.

Without a special and previously costly line of drugs, about 60 percent of patients who do not respond to common treatments die within two years, Mario Raviglione, WHO’s coordinator of TB strategy and operations, told The Associated Press.

Treatment of those patients involves a combination of “second line” drugs including capreomycin and ofloxacin. Many were abandoned as research produced less toxic alternatives.

The “second line” drugs have been expensive because manufacturers received small, irregular orders, said Raviglione.

“These are rare drugs that are only used under particular circumstances, so there was little demand and little production,” he said.

Countries couldn’t afford the drugs so they didn’t buy them, which meant demand was low and the price remained high.

“It’s only through showing the manufacturers that there is a market there that we could get a dramatic decrease in prices,” Raviglione said.

The three institutions formed the Green Light Committee to coordinate demand for the drugs and persuade manufacturers it was worthwhile to produce.

Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors without Borders, took the lead in coordinating orders, negotiating prices and providing advance funds for bulk purchases.

“Before prices went down, patients just died. Finally people aren’t just giving up on them,” said Daniel Berman, an official with the charity.

Raviglione said the project would also seek to improve the way the drugs are prescribed.

“Not only are the drugs expensive but they are quite toxic and must be used for 18-24 months,” he said. “If they are not used properly then the risk is also the creation of resistance to these drugs, which would be the end of the story because there would be nothing left.”

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