Brazil aims for quick license on US AIDS drug
By Robert Evans
GENEVA (Reuters) – Brazil said on Monday it expected toformally break the patent on a U.S. firm’s key drug by July 6in a drive to slash costs of treatment for tens of thousands ofAIDS sufferers in the country.
Reporting the action at a news conference, Health MinisterHumberto Costa said it was covered by World Trade Organization(WTO) rules and was “totally legal and does not represent anybreach of international agreements.”
Costa, who trailed the move in Brasilia on Friday, wasspeaking during an AIDS meeting in Geneva. He said the orderwould be delivered to the U.S. firm, Abbott Laboratories Inc,later on Monday in Sao Paulo.
Abbott, he said, had refused to grant a voluntary licenseunder which Brazil would manufacture the drug — the Kaletraanti-retroviral (ARV) — and pay the firm the actual cost ofproduction.
Kaletra is one of three ARVs made by Abbott and two otherU.S. firms on which Brazil will this year spend $250 million,63 percent of its AIDS budget, to treat some 180,000 sufferers.
The order, the first ever issued by Brazil in along-running tussle over pricing between developing countriesand multinational companies producing drugs used in AIDStreatment, will go into effect within 10 days, Costa said.
It will enable Brazil, which has been praised by the UnitedNations’ AIDS Programme for its successes in the battle againstthe disease, to manufacture Kaletra in state laboratories andput it on the market within a year.
That would cut the cost to the government, which providesARV cocktails to AIDS sufferers free of charge, from $1.17 apill — the price it pays Abbott — to 68 cents, said Costa.
“In spite of being successful in reducing prices over the(recent) period, Brazil still pays exorbitant and unacceptableprices, even from the point of view of the full application ofcapitalist principles,” the minister said.
Following Costa’s remarks last Friday, Abbott said theaction could hurt further research “by putting the government’sdesire to cut health-care spending ahead of patients’ need fornew and better treatments.”
Drug companies argue that they need to keep prices high tofinance research on new medicines. But AIDS activists — andofficials in some poorer countries swept by the disease –argue that the main motivation is profit.
The U.S.-based Health Gap organization at the weekendcalled on other developing nations to follow Brazil’s path “andbreak the patent monopolies of overpriced AIDS drugs in orderto ensure access to affordable life-long treatment.”
Costa said that if Abbott came back with an offer to granta voluntary license, he would suspend the action. But he didnot believe the firm would relent.
Negotiations on a voluntary license were still under waywith the two other U.S. firms — Gilead Science Inc and Merck &Co Inc — making ARV drugs used in Brazil.
“Perhaps this decision (on Abbott) will stimulate them tonegotiate more briefly,” Costa said.