Thai Health Ministry To Issue Compulsory License for Merck’s HIV/AIDS Drug Efavirenz
Thailand's Ministry Of Public Health on Wednesday announced plans to issue a compulsory license to produce a lower-cost version of Merck's antiretroviral drug Efavirenz, Reuters reports. World Trade Organization regulations allow governments to declare a "national emergency" and issue compulsory licenses without consulting the foreign patent owner. Thailand, which has 580,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, has won international recognition for its quick launch of a national drug program that treats more than 82,000 HIV-positive people. However, the government's commitment to providing universal access to care is facing increasingly high drug costs (Schuettler, Reuters, 11/30). The license, which will take effect immediately and will be valid for five years, will reduce the cost of Efavirenz by 50% from $67 monthly to $38.5 monthly, according to Thawat Suntrajarn, head of the ministry's Department of Disease Control (AFP/Today Online, 11/30). In addition, producing the generic version of the drug will save the government more than $100 million over the next five years and enable it to treat 100,000 HIV-positive people, compared with 17,000 who have access to the drug now. Merck said the Thai government did not consult the company before deciding to issue the compulsory license. "Issuing a compulsory license is a serious decision that should be taken as a last resort when no other means exist to access essential patented technology," Merck's Thailand office said in a statement. HIV/AIDS advocates applauded the government's move. "This is both a brave and a progressive step by the Royal Thai Government to place the interests of people living with HIV in Thailand front and centre," UNAIDS country coordinator Patrick Brenny said. The Government Pharmaceutical Organization said it will import generic Efavirenz until it is able to produce the drug itself, which it estimates will be sometime in June 2007. Health ministry officials in a statement said that Merck will receive a 0.5% royalty on sales of the locally produced drug (Reuters, 11/30).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.