Brazil Can Legally Override Patents on Antiretrovirals, Response to Opinion Piece Says
If Brazil follows through with threats to override the patents on four antiretroviral drugs to produce the medications domestically, the government can do so legally under provisions of a World Trade Organization agreement, Carmen Barroso, western hemisphere regional director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, writes in a Miami Herald opinion piece in response to a Nov. 3 Herald piece by Kenneth Adelman, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (Barroso, Miami Herald, 11/15). 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 -- if the drug manufacturers did not agree to allow the country to produce generic equivalents or buy them at discounted prices. Last month, Brazil reached an agreement with Abbott to lower the per-pill cost of lopinavir, also known as Kaletra, from $1.17 to 63 cents and protect the drug's patent. Under the terms of the agreement, Brazilian manufacturers will not produce a generic version of the drug domestically. According to Adelman, Brazil's actions concerning the antiretroviral patents were made "not to save Brazilian lives, but to spur Brazilian business" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/4). Under WTO's 1994 TRIPS agreement, countries are allowed to produce generic versions of patented drugs in the event of "medical emergencies and anti-competitive practices by patent-holding manufacturers," Barroso writes. The terms of the agreement allow such drugs to be used domestically or donated to another country but not sold outside the country of origin. "Given the American pharmaceutical industry's record-high profits, one hopes that [companies in addition to Abbott] will show similar flexibility when millions of lives are at stake," Barroso writes (Miami Herald, 11/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.