Thailand Will Not Issue Compulsory Licenses for Patented Drugs if Pharmaceutical Companies Match Generic Prices, Health Minister Says
Thai Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla on Tuesday said that Thailand will not issue compulsory licenses to produce reduced-cost versions of patented drugs if pharmaceutical companies offer prices lower than those charged by generic drug makers, Reuters AlertNet reports. Mongkol's comments came one day after Abbott Laboratories and Thailand failed to reach an agreement on the price of Abbott's antiretroviral drugs Aluvia and Kaletra (Reuters AlertNet, 5/15).
The Thai government in November 2006 and January issued compulsory licenses to produce lower-cost versions of Merck's antiretroviral Efavirenz and Kaletra, respectively. Since then, the government and drug companies have continued negotiations. Abbott earlier this week offered to sell Aluvia at a reduced price in Thailand on the condition that the country agrees not to allow generic versions of the drug into the market, Siriwat Thiptaradol, secretary-general of Thailand's Food and Drug Administration, said. Abbott offered to sell Aluvia for about 34,000 baht, or $1,000, per person annually. Indian generic drug maker Matrix Laboratories has offered to sell a generic version of Aluvia to Thailand for 24,324 baht, or $695, per person annually. Siriwat said that the offer would be considered by Mongkol. Under the terms of the offer, Thailand would have to agree not to seek compulsory licensing for Aluvia and the price of Aluvia could not be reduced any further (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/15). According to Reuters Alertnet, Aluvia is needed in Thailand because it is a heat-stable version of Kaletra and eliminates the need for costly refrigeration (Reuters AlertNet, 5/15).
Mongkol said that compulsory licenses are needed "to make the drugs affordable for all, not for commercial purposes." The health ministry's decision to reject Abbott's offer was praised by some HIV/AIDS advocates. Jon Ungphakorn, secretary-general of Thailand's AIDS Access Foundation, said Abbott's offer demonstrates that the company "never treated patients as human beings, but business." He urged the ministry to refrain from holding further negotiations with Abbott unless the company seeks to introduce new drugs in the country (Duangkamol/Pennapa, Nation, 5/16). According to Siriwat, the ministry and Abbott on June 1 will meet for further negotiations. Abbott declined to comment on the negotiations, Reuters AlertNet reports (Reuters AlertNet, 5/15).
Thai Department of Intellectual Property To Re-Examine Drug Patent Laws
In related news, Thailand's Department of Intellectual Property plans to re-examine the country's drug patent laws, the Nation reports. Banyong Limprayoonwong, deputy head of DIP, on Tuesday said he would review an amended version of the 1999 Patents Act because of pressure from some HIV/AIDS advocates and academics. According to the Nation, HIV/AIDS advocates opposed the amended version because it aimed to accelerate patent registrations in the country (Nation, 5/16).
Opinion Piece, Letter to Editor
Two newspapers recently published an opinion piece and letter to the editor in response to the negotiations between Thailand and Abbott. Summaries appear below.
- Songphol Sukchan, Wall Street Journal: Thailand's decision to issue compulsory license "was not made lightly," Songphol, director of the press division at Thailand's Department of Information, writes in a letter to the editor in response to a May 7 Journal editorial. According to Songphol, Thailand "recongize[s] the importance of intellectual property protection" but also must "improve access to treatment without jeopardizing" its overall budget. "Compulsory licensing is used to protect public health and save lives," Songphol writes, concluding, "Such matters should not be politicized" (Songphol, Wall Street Journal, 5/16).
- Robert Goldberg, Washington Times: "Another round of company discounts and giveaways to government programs are not the answer" to Thailand's efforts to provide HIV-positive people with increased access to antiretrovirals, Goldberg, vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, writes in a Times opinion piece. Goldberg adds that Thailand's "underinvestment in health care delivery -- as well as the quality of medicines [produced in Thailand] -- is threatening to doom millions to death" (Goldberg, Washington Times, 5/15).