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Utah Senator threatens to yank U.S. peace money from Colombia after nation tries to make expensive leukemia drug more affordable


(NaturalNews) The Colombian government recently announced that it plans to override the patent held by Novartis AG on a popular cancer medication and open it up for generic drug makers unless the pharmaceutical firm agrees to a price cut.

Colombia says its universal healthcare system's budget is under severe strain, and issuing the compulsory license can be considered an allowable exception to patent rules on the grounds that it is a matter of public interest.

The drug, imatinib, is marketed as Glivec and is used for leukemia and gastrointestinal tumors. Glivec was the top-selling drug for Novartis last year, bringing in $4.7 billion for the firm. However, the firm is now facing the prospect of declining sales after a cheaper generic version hit the U.S. market in February.

The drug has been sold in Colombia for more than a decade, and more than 2,000 patients are currently using it. For much of this time it was not protected by a patent, and generic drug makers sold their own version for around half the cost. However, the Colombian courts granted a patent to Novartis in 2012 that will be in effect until the middle of 2018.

The cost of a year's supply of the drug is more than $15,000 there, which is double the income of the average Colombian. A generic version that was recently launched in India should cost almost a third less than the brand-name version, which means significant savings could be made for those in need.

The actual cost for a one-year supply of the drug is estimated to be just $159. Colombia is not the only place where patients pay inflated prices for it; it cost Americans more than $106,000 and Brits more than $30,000 for a one-year supply in 2015, according to the findings of British researchers.

Peace Colombia funding could be jeopardized in retaliation

Now, leaked letters show that a staffer from the Senate Finance Committee led by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, warned that Colombia would suffer repercussions if the country moves ahead with its plan to approve the generic drug.

Peace Colombia is a new initiative to which the Obama administration pledged $450 million to bring the country's government and rebels together to put an end to decades of deadly fighting and civil unrest. Part of the funds would be utilized to help remove landmines from the country, which is second only to Afghanistan in the number of landmine fatalities.

In a series of letters written in late April, the Deputy Chief of Mission for the Colombian Embassy in Washington D.C., Andres Florez, voiced his concerns in writing to Maria Angela Holguin of the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stating that congressional retaliation was possible over the drug's compulsory licensing. Florez said that he was particularly concerned that the case could adversely affect the approval of the financing of Peace Colombia. The letters were leaked to Colombian news outlets Noticias Uno and El Espectador.

Big Pharma a threat to world peace?

This behavior is not too surprising coming from Hatch, considering that pharmaceutical and health firms are the second largest group of donors to his campaigns. The Intercept reports that the pharmaceutical trade association Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America shelled out $750,000 to fund a nonprofit that backed the senator's re-election in 2012, employed his son Scott as a lobbyist and donated to his family charity.

The case illustrates just how far the reach of Big Pharma truly extends. The pharmaceutical industry is so powerful that it can essentially force Colombia to choose between public health and peace. It is becoming more obvious every day that drug companies are a lot more interested in the health of their bank accounts than they are in the health of patients around the world. Big Pharma has long been a threat to public health, and now it appears that it can flex its muscles in matters of world peace as well.

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