Brazil’s Lower House Approves Bill Suspending All Patents on Antiretroviral Drugs
Brazil's lower house of government on Wednesday approved a bill that would suspend patents on all antiretroviral drugs and allow Brazilian companies to produce generic versions of the drugs if the Brazilian government cannot negotiate price reductions or licensing agreements with patent-holding pharmaceutical companies, Bloomberg.com reports (Cortes, Bloomberg.com, 6/1). The Brazilian government in March threatened to break the patents on four antiretrovirals -- Merck's efavirenz, Abbott Laboratories' lopinavir and ritonavir, and Gilead's tenofovir -- by April 4 if the drug manufacturers did not agree to allow the country to produce generic equivalents or buy them at discounted prices, but it has not yet done so. Brazil's National STD/AIDS Programme, which is considered to be one of the most progressive in the world, already manufactures and distributes generic versions of antiretrovirals, providing them at no cost to all HIV-positive people in the country. The program ignores all patents issued before 1997, when Brazil signed an intellectual property law in order to join the World Trade Organization. The government over the past three years repeatedly has said it might break patent laws in order to negotiate price reductions with pharmaceutical companies (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/17).
Roberto Gouveia, the bill's author and a deputy from the governing Workers' Party, said the government spends 63% of its $409 million antiretroviral drug budget to buy the four patented drugs, Bloomberg.com reports. Gouveia said the measure would help reduce drug prices and allow more HIV-positive Brazilians to access antiretrovirals, adding, "Patents have to be suspended if they're harming public health" (Bloomberg.com, 6/1). Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is continuing to negotiate with the patent-holding pharmaceutical companies on price reductions and voluntary licenses, but the talks so far have not produced results. Gouveia said that the measure allows the Brazilian government to threaten to break patents if the pharmaceutical companies refuse to reduce prices or agree to voluntary licensing. However, the Brazilian government could face U.S. trade sanctions if it decides to break the patents (Nunez Diaz, Global Insight Daily Analysis, 6/2). "The government is taking actions that will undermine initiatives seeking new and better treatment for AIDS," Abbott spokesperson Brian Kyhos said, adding, "The respect to intellectual property is important as it leads to more investments" (Bloomberg.com, 6/1). There are approximately 600,000 HIV-positive Brazilians, about 155,000 of whom are receiving antiretrovirals at no cost (Valor Economico, 6/2).