Thailand Names Lead Negotiator in Proposed U.S.-Thai Free Trade Agreement; Advocates Urge Health Ministry to Block Patent on GSK Drug
The permanent secretary of Thailand's Ministry of Commerce, Karoon Kittisathaporn, on Tuesday was named the country's lead negotiator in a proposed U.S.-Thai Free Trade Agreement, replacing Nitya Pibulsonggram, Reuters reports (Reuters, 2/7). Nitya, who led the talks for 18 months, resigned last month because of criticism from the media and opposition to the trade agreement from HIV/AIDS advocates. The sixth round of talks on the FTA proposal aims to foster trade between the two countries. Some HIV/AIDS advocates oppose a proposal by the U.S. to extend patent protection for drugs developed by U.S. companies to 25 years because they fear it could limit drug access for HIV-positive Thai people. According to government spokesperson Surapong Suebwonglee, Karoon has been participating in the negotiations "for a long time." He also led successful FTA negotiations with Australia and New Zealand in 2005, Reuters reports (Reuters, 2/7). Karoon on Tuesday pledged to make national interests a priority and to be receptive to the opinions of people from all sides (MCOT News, 2/8).
Thai AIDS Advocates Urge Health Ministry To Block Patent on GSK Drug
HIV/AIDS advocates on Monday urged Thailand's Public Health Ministry not to allow the Intellectual Property Department to grant a patent on GlaxoSmithKline's antiretroviral drug Combid, saying that the patent would limit affordable access to the drug for many HIV-positive people, Thailand's Bangkok Post reports. GSK applied for a patent for Combid in 1997, but the patent has been stalled because of opposition from AIDS advocates, some of whom say that Combid is not an innovative drug because the company only added a new substance to an existing formula, making it ineligible for a patent. Britain declined to grant a patent for Combid on the same grounds, the Post reports. However, the Intellectual Property Department recently agreed to move forward with the patent process, and the department likely will grant the patent next week, according to AIDS Access Foundation Director Nimit Tienudom. If the drug were patented, the Government Pharmaceutical Organization would have to cease production of its less expensive version of the drug and the health ministry would have to pay about $10 million more to provide 4,000 people with access to Combid, according to Nimit, who submitted a petition to Public Health Minister Phinij Jarusombat. Combid costs as much as $210 per course, compared with about $38 per course for the generic version, the Post reports. If that happens, Nimit said his group will file a complaint in court "as a last resort to defend the public interest." Phinij said the department has told him the decision on the patent will not be made soon (Apinya, Bangkok Post, 2/7).