Abbott’s Decision To Withhold New Drug Applications in Thailand ‘Strikes at Heart’ of Country’s Efforts To Provide Wider Drug Access, Editorial Says
The decision by pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories to withdraw applications to sell new drugs in Thailand "certainly strikes at the heart of the government's efforts to secure life-saving medicine for all Thais," a Bangkok Post editorial says (Bangkok Post, 3/22). Abbott recently announced that it has withdrawn applications to sell seven new drugs in Thailand in response to the country's decision to issue a compulsory license for the company's antiretroviral drug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. 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 for Kaletra could save the country as much as $24 million annually. 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. Mongkol recently said that he will expand the country's generic drug program to include more antiretroviral and cancer drugs unless pharmaceutical companies reduce their prices (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/21). According to the Post, Abbott is "within its legal rights and is taking a hard-line stance -- not unlike Thai policymakers." The editorial adds that the pharmaceutical company "appears to be drawing a line in the sand" because it "hopes other countries will not start issuing compulsory licenses for its drugs." However, the Ministry of Public Health "must stand firm," the editorial says, adding, "Backing down now would send the wrong message to other pharmaceutical manufacturers and deprive citizens of Thailand's rights" under WTO regulations. According to the editorial, the Thai Government Pharmaceutical Organization "should open its books or reveal its strategy to cope with increased generic production." The editorial concludes that in issuing compulsory licenses, Thailand "is putting meaning back" into WTO's intellectual property regulations and is "forcing a renewed global debate on an issue Big Pharma would rather handle through bilateral trade deals with weaker nations" (Bangkok Post, 3/22).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.