Bristol-Myers Squibb Returns Patent for Antiretroviral Drug to Thailand; Group Agrees To Drop Lawsuits Over Patent Rights
U.S. pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb on Friday reached an agreement with the Thai Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, the AIDS Access Foundation and the Foundation for Consumers at the Central Intellectual Property Rights and International Trade Court to return its patent for the antiretroviral drug didanosine to Thailand, the Bangkok Post reports (Bhatiasevi, Bangkok Post, 1/17). Under the agreement, BMS agreed to return the patent for the drug -- which BMS sells as Videx -- to the country's Department of Intellectual Properties, which granted the patent in January 1998. In exchange, the Foundation for Consumers and three HIV-positive people agreed to settle a legal suit filed against the drug maker in 2002, the Nation reports (Sakboon, Nation, 1/17). Thailand's Government Pharmaceutical Organization in the lawsuit alleges that BMS' entire patent on Videx is invalid because the drug is "merely a combination of an antacid and the active ingredient didanosine," for which BMS does not hold a patent. The company developed Videx after licensing didanosine from NIH but maintains that Videx is patentable because the antacid improves the drug's effectiveness (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/10/02). The suit followed a ruling in another case that removed BMS' exclusive right to market didanosine in Thailand. The court ruled that part of BMS' patent on the drug was invalid and the company had the exclusive right to produce didanosine only in doses from five milligrams to 100 milligrams, while other drug companies could produce the drug in higher doses. BMS, in its original patent application filed in July 1992, asked that its patent be extended to cover a "range of 5 mg to 100 mg per unit of use." In 1997, BMS amended its patent and omitted the dosage restriction (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/2/02).
Kamol Uppakaew, chair of the Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, said, "It is good news, but [it] came with a lot of hard work." GPO Director Thongchai Thavichachart lauded the agreement and said that the GPO would "immediately" begin production of didanosine, according to the Post. He added, "We've been waiting for a long time. Last year, we had to return the raw materials we ordered for manufacturing the tablets because the court case was still pending. But now the medicine should be available within a month's time" (Bangkok Post, 1/17). "This did not happen because the drug company wants to be kind to people living with HIV/AIDS in Thailand," AIDS Access Foundation Director Nimit Tien-udom said, adding, "It is the result of our fight to improve access to medicine" (Nation, 1/17). He added, "This was an important result, and we think this case serves as an example for other countries of the world" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 1/17).