U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Urges Government To Negotiate on Drug Pricing, Compulsory Licensing With U.S. Drug Companies
U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Ralph Boyce on Monday after talking with Thai Public Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla said compulsory licensing could be avoided if the Thai government and international pharmaceutical companies work to find a compromise on drug pricing, the Thai News Agency reports (Thai News Agency, 4/23). The Thai government in November 2006 and January issued compulsory licenses to produce lower-cost versions of Merck's antiretroviral drug Efavirenz and Abbott Laboratories' antiretroviral Kaletra, respectively. Since then, the government and drug companies have continued negotiations (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/28). "We respect the Thai government decision to issue compulsory licensing under" World Trade Organization regulations, but "what we would like to see is the negotiations between the Thai government and representatives of major drug companies," Boyce said. He added, "The result of the talks may lead to those companies' decision to lower their price of the drugs that will be affordable to all and that compulsory licensing may not be needed." Mongkol said he plans to travel to the U.S. next month to talk with trade officials and other agencies about the issue (Thai News Agency, 4/23).
In related news, HIV/AIDS advocates in about 20 countries have called for a worldwide boycott of Abbott products over the situation in Thailand. Although Abbott earlier this week offered to sell its antiretroviral Aluvia at a reduced price in the country, some not-for-profits groups say the offer is superficial. "Abbott has agreed to register Aluvia (for sale) only under the condition that they (Thailand) stop the compulsory license, which is tantamount to blackmail," Brigitte Tenni of the Thai Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS said, adding, "If we tolerate it now, other developing countries will be very intimidated to issue compulsory licenses in [the] future." Abbott was not available for comment, according to Reuters (Reuters, 4/25). Thailand's Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturer's Association recently called on the government for increased dialogue with pharmaceutical industry representatives about the country's generic drug program. "We need to work together in a spirit of joint endeavor if we are to succeed in helping Thai patients," the association in a statement said, adding, "There is so much more that can be provided to patients by industry and government engaging in a dialogue that is focused on securing better health outcomes in Thailand" (AFX/Forbes, 4/24).
Wall Street Journal Examines Drug Patent Debate
The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday examined the "tug-of-war" between Thailand and Abbott over compulsory licensing and its effect on international drug patents. According to the Journal, drug makers are "increasingly looking to emerging markets to compensate for slowing growth" in the U.S., Europe and Japan. Abbott's sales in the U.S. decreased by 7.5% last year to $11.5 billion but grew by 10.9% on the international market to about $11 billion. However, the company's "troubles" indicate that "cracking the new markets can be tough because governments are driving a hard bargain on price." Several developing countries -- including the Philippines, Indonesia and Kenya -- are considering plans to reduce drug costs through compulsory licensing or price caps for brand-name drugs, the Journal reports. Such plans "could threaten the ambitions of drug companies in developing nations -- especially those such as Thailand that are growing wealthier," according to the Journal (Hookway/Zamiska, Wall Street Journal, 4/24).