Brazil’s Efforts To Produce Generic AIDS Drugs Will Hamper Economic Growth, Health Standard Progress, Opinion Piece Says
Brazil's decision to turn down $40 million in U.S. AIDS grants and manufacture generic versions of patented antiretroviral drugs will "retard economic development" and "handicap all efforts to improve human health standards," columnist Mary Anastasia O'Grady writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece (O'Grady, Wall Street Journal, 6/24). Brazil's lower house of government earlier this month approved a bill that would suspend patents on all antiretrovirals 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. The 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/3).
Brazil's efforts to produce generic antiretrovirals -- part of the country's "wider assault on intellectual property rights" -- will not only slow economic development but also hinder drug development, O'Grady writes. Although people living with HIV/AIDS need new therapies as the disease develops resistance to available drugs, pharmaceutical companies will lack incentives to develop new medicines if politicians "demand [them] free of charge," according to O'Grady. As "[j]ob-seeking Brazilians who would benefit from foreign investment in biotech will have to move to India," Brazil will "sink ever lower into underdevelopment," O'Grady writes, concluding, "Maybe soon it will legitimately qualify for the same charity as poverty-stricken sub-Saharan Africa" (Wall Street Journal, 6/24).