Thai, U.S. Officials Have Not Reached Agreement About Compulsory Licenses for Patented Drugs, Thai Health Minister Says
Meetings held on Monday between Thai and U.S. officials concerning the issuance of compulsory licenses to produce several medications, including two antiretroviral drugs, in Thailand were "fruitless," Thai Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla said on Tuesday, the Bangkok Post reports. Mongkol and senior executives from Thailand's Public Health, Commerce and Foreign Affairs ministries met with U.S. officials on May 21 and May 22 to explain the country's policy on compulsory licenses (Treerutkuarkul, Bangkok Post, 5/23).
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 month offered to sell Aluvia, an updated version of Kaletra, 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, 5/16).
After meeting with U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Mongkol said that it is "clear" Gutierrez "represents the drug companies." During the meeting, Gutierrez said it is not the responsibility of pharmaceutical companies to absorb the burden of Thailand's health care system, the Post reports. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) responded similarly when discussing the issue with Mongkol, according to the Post. Talks with Deputy U.S. Trade Representative John Veroneau were more positive, the Post reports. According to Vichai Chokewiwat, chair of the Government Pharmaceutical Organization Board, Veroneau said that he understands the reasons behind issuing the compulsory licenses, adding that they are "very reasonable."
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) also was supportive of Thailand's actions, according to the Post. "Thailand is an important U.S. ally that is trying to save the lives of its citizens," Waxman said in a statement. He added, "Accordingly, the U.S. should show compassion and provide support to our longtime friend rather than impose punitive actions" -- such as the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative's recent announcement that the country has been put on its Priority Watch List. According to Vichai, the Thai government will continue with its plans for compulsory licenses (Bangkok Post, 5/23).
Thailand Considers Revoking Compulsory License for Efavirenz
The Thai government is considering revoking its compulsory license for Efavirenz following recent talks with Merck, Mongkol said on Wednesday. According to Mongkol, Merck representatives have proposed several options for pricing of the drug that could benefit both sides. Mongkol did not give details about the options but said that they could serve as examples for other pharmaceutical companies whose patents have been overridden (Apiradee, Bangkok Post, 5/24).
PhRMA CEO Meets With Mongkol To Discuss Compulsory Licenses
In related news, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America might call on the Bush administration to take increased action against Thailand if the country continues to issue compulsory licenses, PhRMA CEO Bill Tauzin said recently, The Hill reports. According to The Hill, Tauzin and Mongkol met on Tuesday to discuss the compulsory licenses. Tauzin said that his meeting with Mongkol was open and beneficial and that Mongkol emphasized Thailand sees the issuing of the compulsory licenses as rare, The Hill reports.
According to Tauzin, PhRMA hopes that Thailand will consult with U.S. pharmaceutical companies to lower drug costs without having to issue compulsory licenses. He added that if Thailand continues to issue compulsory licenses for drugs protected by patents, the group will advocate for penalties, including those that could eliminate trade preferences allowing some Thai imports to enter the U.S. duty free (Swanson, The Hill, 5/23). "We can and will continue to have discussions with our own government and officials around the world to promote intellectual property protection," Tauzin said (Pierce, United Press International, 5/23).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Monday reported on efforts by Brazil and Thailand to purchase generic versions of antiretrovirals. The segment includes comments from Mongkol; Antonio Patriota, Brazil's ambassador to the U.S.; Tauzin; and Jeffrey Sturchio, vice president for corporate responsibility at Merck (Wilson, "Morning Edition," NPR, 5/21). Audio of the segment is available online.