HIV/AIDS Advocates in Thailand Protest GSK’s Application Seeking Patent for Antiretroviral Drug Combid
About 500 HIV-positive people on Monday demonstrated outside the GlaxoSmithKline office in Bangkok, Thailand, to protest the pharmaceutical company's patent application for its antiretroviral drug Combid, Thailand's Nation reports (Nation, 8/8). GSK applied for a patent for Combid in 1997, but the process stalled because of opposition from HIV/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, which the advocates say makes it ineligible for a patent. According to the Thai Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS, about 4,000 people in the country currently pay about $38 monthly each for generic versions of Combid -- sold as Combivir in the U.S. and Europe -- and would have to pay about $203 monthly if the patent were approved. In addition, the patent's approval could hamper access to the drug for more than 100,000 HIV-positive people in the country, according to the group (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/23). International advocacy groups -- including Medecins Sans Frontieres, the Positive Malaysian Treatment Access and Advocacy Group, Intellectual Property Left, the U.S.-based Health Global Access Project and the Health Right Network of Korea -- helped organize the demonstration, according to the protesters.
Reaction, Next Steps
After two hours of demonstration, the advocates met with a GSK representative, who accepted a letter containing their demands, the Nation reports. GSK in a statement to the Nation said it "disputes the claims of [nongovernmental organizations] that Glaxo would seek to reduce access and availability of antiretrovirals" (Nation, 8/7). According to GSK, Thailand also could attempt to secure a voluntary license agreement to produce generic versions of the drug even if the patent application is successful. In addition, GSK spokesperson Alice Hunt said that the company offers preferential drug pricing for middle-income countries such as Thailand (Chia, Reuters AlertNet, 8/7). Seksan Boonsuwan, director of the Patent Division of Thailand's Department of Intellectual Property, on Monday said that the final decision about the patent application would be made by the department and that the protesters' appeal would be considered. Seksan also said that if GSK's application is successful, HIV-positive people would have to pay more for the drug and that Thailand's Government Pharmaceutical Organization -- which produces a generic version of Combid knows as Zilarvir -- could be sued by GSK for patent violation if it continues to produce Zilarvir. GPO Director Mongkol Jiwasantikarn said that if the patent is approved, the organization will stop producing its generic version, which currently has a total market value of about $8 million annually in Thailand. "We are not worried about our income but about the health of infected people," he said, adding, "I don't know how they will be able to afford the patented drug" (Nation, 8/8). Thai HIV/AIDS advocates said they plan to protest the application at the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto next week (Reuters AlertNet, 8/7).
The XVI International AIDS Conference program is available online.
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