Thailand Will Maintain Compulsory Licenses for Kaletra, Efavirenz, Despite Companies’ Drug Price Reductions, Health Minister Says
Thailand will maintain compulsory licenses for Abbott Laboratories' antiretroviral drug Kaletra and Merck's antiretroviral Efavirenz, despite both companies' decision to reduce the cost of both drugs, Thai Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla said on Thursday, Reuters Health reports (Wong-Anan, Reuters Health, 4/12). Mongkol in January signed the compulsory license, which allows Thailand to produce a lower-cost version of Kaletra, into law. Abbott in March announced that it had withdrawn applications to sell seven new drugs in Thailand in response to the compulsory license. The company on Tuesday said it plans to reduce the cost of Kaletra in Thailand and more than 40 low- and low-middle-income countries by more than half. The company said it will provide Kaletra in the countries for $1,000 per patient annually, which is less than the cost of generic versions of the drug, instead of the current price of $2,200. Kaletra costs more than $7,500 per patient annually in the U.S., and Abbott provides the drug at a cost of $500 per patient annually in 69 of the poorest developing countries, including all of Africa (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/11). Merck also offered to reduce the price of its antiretroviral Efavirenz to $23 per bottle, but the government can purchase a generic version of the drug from India-based drug makers for about $20 per bottle (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/28). Many countries -- including Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mozambique and Zambia -- have broken or have threatened to override patents on antiretrovirals and drugs for other infectious diseases, the International Herald Tribune reports.
Thai officials said Wednesday that the government had not yet decided if the price reduction of Kaletra would forestall compulsory licensing (Fuller, International Herald Tribune, 4/11). "Compulsory licensing is the only way we could attract them to sit down and talk with us over price reduction," Mongkol said, adding, "We will continue to talk with them until we reach the point where we can optimize the accessibility of the drugs to the Thai people" (Reuters Health, 4/12). Jennifer Smoter, a spokesperson for Abbott, said, "Thailand has chosen to break patents on numerous medicines, ignoring the patent system," adding, "As such, we've elected not to introduce new medicines there" (International Herald Tribune, 4/11). Some AIDS advocates said Abbott will have to go beyond its offer to reduce the price of Kaletra to the governments of more than 40 low- and low-middle-income countries. Paul Cawthorne, head of mission of the Medecins Sans Frontieres, said the company had not included in its offer an updated version of Kaletra, called Aluvia, which does not require refrigeration. "Abbott has to do more," Cawthorne said, adding, "What we need to see are these new heat stable Aluvia tablets going into people's mouths, and then we will be happy" (Reuters Health, 4/12).