Abbott Offers To Lower Price of Antiretroviral Kaletra for Thai Government Health Programs
Pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories on Thursday in negotiations with Thailand's Ministry of Public Health agreed in principle to lower the price of its antiretroviral drug Kaletra in response to Thailand's announcement last month that it would issue a compulsory license for the drug, the Bangkok Post reports (Treerutkuarkul, Bangkok Post, 2/9). Public Health Minister Mongkol na Songkhla last month signed the compulsory license, which allows Thailand to produce a lower-cost version of Kaletra, into law. 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. Kaletra currently costs about $347 per patient monthly, and the lower-priced version could cost about $120 per patient monthly, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres. The compulsory license could save the country as much as $24 million annually (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/8). According to a joint statement released by the health ministry and Abbott, the two sides agreed in principle to reduce the price of Kaletra in Thailand to increase access to the drug among HIV-positive people who have developed resistance to other antiretrovirals. The lower price will apply only to Thailand's public health programs and will not apply to private hospitals, people with high incomes or foreign patients, according to the Post. Suvit Wibulpolprasert, a senior health ministry adviser on health economics, said Abbott would look into the possibility of reducing production costs to lower the price of Kaletra (Bangkok Post, 2/9). According to Xinhua News Agency, Abbott offered to lower Kaletra's cost to $167 per patient monthly, although representatives from the health ministry said that was still too high. Abbott and the ministry agreed to meet for further negotiations in one month, Xinhua reports (Xinhua News Agency, 2/9).
Related Editorial, Opinion Piece
The Wall Street Journal Asia on Friday published an editorial and an opinion piece on the situation. Summaries appear below.
Wall Street Journal Asia: "By seizing patents for HIV/AIDS treatments," Thailand has "asserted that governments have the right to take intellectual property wherever and whenever they please," a Journal Asia editorial says, adding that when governments "stifle" innovation, "it's the patients who suffer most." According to the editorial, resistance to some antiretrovirals in Thailand is high, "most likely because of the reliance on faulty" Governmental Pharmaceutical Organization "generic copies." The editorial concludes that the Thai government is "toying with something ... serious" by issuing a compulsory license for Kaletra: "its citizens' lives" (Wall Street Journal Asia, 2/9).
- Roger Bate, Wall Street Journal Asia: "The only winner" in the compulsory license debate over Kaletra "will be Thailand's historically corrupt" GPO, Bate, American Enterprise Institute resident fellow, writes in a Journal Asia opinion piece. According to Bate, GPO facilities "have not passed the World Health Organization's manufacturing standards" and because there is no data on the quality of GPO-manufactured drugs, "they are at best approximate copies and should not be labeled generics." If GPO manufactures a version of Kaletra, it "would be a disaster for Thailand because the real risk to the poorest of the ill," especially HIV-positive people, is "not drug prices but bad health systems and poor training of medical professionals," Bate writes (Bate, Wall Street Journal Asia, 2/9).