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Drug patents

Thailand challenges Big Pharma, threatens to further override patents to give Thai people more affordable generic medicine

Sunday, February 18, 2007 by: M. T. Whitney
Tags: drug patents, the WHO, Thailand


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(NewsTarget) Thailand has stepped up its challenge to drug companies, saying it will continue to override corporate patents and make generic drugs until the pharmaceutical industry lowers its prices.

The south Asian country, which last week broke patents for the HIV/AIDS retroviral drug Kaletra and the blood-thinning medication Plavix, said that it is considering granting more compulsory licenses to make generics within five major groups of medicine. These include anticancer drugs, heart medications and antibiotics.

Thailand's distribution of licenses to make the drugs is permitted by World Trade Organization rules, which say a country can declare a "national emergency" to produce the drugs and override held patents.

"As a matter of fact, we don't want to use the compulsory licensing policy because we don't want to upset the pharmaceutical industry. However, we have to think about the many Thais who need the medicines badly but cannot have them,'' Thailand's Health Minister Mongkol na Songkhla told the Bangkok Post.

Using a generic version of Kaletra could save the nationalized Thai health system around $24 million a year in costs.

In related news, Abbott Laboratories of Illinois offered on Monday to reduce the price of Kaletra to the Thai market by nearly half, to $167 a month. Importing a generic from India would cost around $120 a month.

The price offered by Abbott is in line with what the company offers other lower-middle-income countries, but representatives for Thailand's health ministry said that Abbott's offer is still too high, according to the Xinhua news agency. Abbott and the Thai government will revisit negotiations next month regarding lowering the price of Kaletra.

The patent-breaking actions of the Thai government were praised by AIDS activists, but garnered disapproval from Washington and the pharmaceutical industry.

Natural health and consumer advocate Mike Adams had strong words for companies that do not offer their medicines at affordable prices.

"To claim ownership over medicine, and deny that medicine to impoverished citizens of poor nations, simply due to their economic status, is a crime against humanity and should be treated as such," he said.

"I applaud the courage of Thailand to challenge the illegal drug cartel currently being operated by pharmaceutical companies, government regulators and patent attorneys," Adams said, adding, "Thailand is setting a new ethical standard for dealing with drug companies: Refuse to recognize their intellectual property claims and do what's right for the public."

Thailand is not the only country to break patents: India and Brazil are examples of other countries that produce generic versions of patented drugs under the "national emergency" regulations of the WTO. However, Thailand is the first to actively threaten to override patents on a wide range of medicines.

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