Abbott To Stop Launching New Drugs in Thailand in Response to Country’s Compulsory License for Antiretroviral Kaletra
Pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories recently announced that it has withdrawn applications to sell seven new drugs in Thailand in response to the country's decision to issue a compulsory license for the company's antiretroviral drug Kaletra, Reuters reports. The seven withdrawn drugs include a new version of Kaletra; an antibiotic; a painkiller; and medicines to treat blood clots, arthritis, kidney disease and high blood pressure, Reuters reports. According to Reuters, Abbott's decision to stop introducing new drugs will not affect the sale of drugs currently on the market in Thailand (Schuettler, Reuters, 3/14). Thai Health Minister Mongkol na Songkhla in January 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 provides treatment to more than 82,000 HIV-positive people. However, the government's commitment to providing universal access to care is facing increasingly high drug costs. The compulsory license could save the country as much as $24 million annually. According to a joint statement released in February 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. 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/15).
Abbott spokesperson Jennifer Smoter said that because the Thai government "decided not to support innovation by breaking the patents, Abbott will not submit applications or register new medicines and will withdraw current applications in Thailand until the government changes its position." According to an unnamed source, Abbott notified the Thai government about its decision a few weeks ago after talks between the two sides ended unsuccessfully, the Wall Street Journal reports. Thawat Suntrajarn, director-general of the health ministry's department of disease control, said that he had been unaware of Abbott's decision. He added that it is "not good for anyone, even the American company, because they will lose the market" in Thailand. According to Thawat, the Thai government will continue to seek out drugmakers able to produce a generic version of Kaletra. Paul Cawthorne, head of the Thailand operation of Medecins San Frontieres, said that Abbott's decision is "appalling," adding, "If they really are going to do this, it reflects so badly on the multinational companies." Cawthorne said that in recent months Abbott told him the new formulation of Kaletra would be made available in Thailand by this summer. Abbott has said that it will not pull the older version of Kaletra from the Thai market, adding that both the older and newer versions of the drug are equally effective. The primary difference between the two versions is that the newer one is more convenient to take, according to Abbott (Zamiska, Wall Street Journal, 3/14).
Abbott's decision to withdraw the drug applications in Thailand is an "entirely rational business decision" a Journal editorial says. "In the long run, Abbott's withdrawal may have a salutary impact if it demonstrates to Thai officials and other governments that they will pay a price for stealing intellectual property," the editorial says. "In seizing the patents, Thailand is taking advantage of vague language" in the WTO regulations, the editorial says, adding that there is "no such emergency in this case." The editorial says that the World Health Organization's executive board meets in May, and unless WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and other officials start "publicly supporting intellectual property rights, there's a good chance Thailand's actions will be replicated elsewhere." The editorial concludes, "That's bad news for pharmaceutical companies -- and for everyone who cares about drug innovation and public health" (Wall Street Journal, 3/14).