Thailand, Pharmaceutical Companies To Continue Talks on Compulsory Drug Licenses, U.S. Official Says
Thai public health officials plan to continue discussions with international pharmaceutical companies following recent debates over compulsory licenses issued by the country for some medications, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Daniel Christman said on Tuesday, Reuters UK reports (Amorn, Reuters, 3/20). Pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories recently announced that it has withdrawn applications to sell seven new drugs in Thailand in response to the country's decision to issue a compulsory license for the company's antiretroviral drug Kaletra. Thai Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla in January signed the compulsory license, which allows Thailand to produce a lower-cost version of Kaletra, into law. World Trade Organization regulations allow governments to declare a "national emergency" and issue compulsory licenses without consulting the foreign patent owner. Thailand, which has 580,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, has won international recognition for its quick launch of a national drug program that provides treatment to more than 82,000 HIV-positive people. However, the government's commitment to providing universal access to care is facing increasingly high drug costs. The compulsory license for Kaletra could save the country as much as $24 million annually. Abbott offered to lower Kaletra's cost to $167 per patient monthly, although representatives from the health ministry said that was still too high. Abbott and the ministry agreed to meet for further negotiations. Mongkol recently said that he will expand the country's generic drug program to include more antiretroviral and cancer drugs unless pharmaceutical companies reduce their prices (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/20). According to Christman, a recent meeting between Thai health ministry officials and pharmaceutical representatives indicated that the two parties could settle their disputes. "What we found here was a willingness of Thai government officials to continue a dialogue which, in their view, has been uninterrupted." Christman added that Thailand could be at risk of losing foreign investment as a result of issuing compulsory licenses. "One of the ways in which a country can compete successfully is to attract foreign investment through a reputation that says it respects the protection of intellectual property," he said. According to a survey of 234 foreign business executives released this month by the commerce chamber, Thailand's new economic and intellectual property policies could deter foreign investment (Reuters, 3/20).
HIV/AIDS Advocates' Comments
Health advocacy groups on Tuesday called on the World Health Organization and UNAIDS to take increased action to support developing countries in their efforts to provide low-cost drugs through compulsory licenses, the Bangkok Post reports. 'We're wondering what the WHO is doing apart from sending a letter to initially support the Thai government's move on compulsory licensing,' Paul Cawthorne, head of mission of the Medecins Sans Frontieres, said. Cawthorne said WHO and UNAIDS should be more involved in issues surrounding compulsory licenses and support developing countries in their efforts to provide access to lower-cost generic drugs. Cawthorne also said that WHO should create a list of essential drugs for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. 'It is the WHO's job to find cheaper versions of the expensive drugs for poor countries,' he said. He added that MSF plans to send letters to UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot and WHO Director-General Margaret Chan urging action on access to generic drugs. In addition, MSF and United Kingdom-based Oxfam International met with Suwit Wibulpolprasert, special adviser to Mongkol, to show support for the ministry's drug access policy, the Post reports (Apiradee, Bangkok Post, 3/21). In addition, health advocacy and consumer groups in Thailand are calling for a boycott of Abbott products following its announcement to suspend sales of new drugs in the country, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports. "What they did is synonymous with holding our patients hostage," Kriengsak Vacharanukulki-eti, head of the Rural Doctors' Society, said on Tuesday, adding, "It's not just a threat to Thai patients, it's a threat to patients in poor countries everywhere." Abbott declined to comment on the proposed boycott, but the company's Director for HIV Communication and Policy Dirk van Eeden said that Thailand has "chosen to break patents on a number of medicines, ignoring the patent system. As such, we've elected not to introduce new medicines" (Ahuja, AP/International Herald Tribune, 3/20).