Monday, May 07, 2007

Brazil Slashes AIDS Drugs Price, Despite Threats From US, Big Pharma

The Brazilian president Lula da Silva has announced he would bypass a patent held by Merck in order to buy a cheaper generic version of the AIDS drug efavirenz. The move has been predictably critized by the US and business interests, but is being praised around the world as a hige step towards prioritizing life over drug company profits. I wonder where the right-to-lifers come down on this?

Associated Press

BRASILIA -- President Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva took steps Friday to let Brazil buy an inexpensive generic version of an AIDS drug made by Merck & Co. despite the U.S. drug company's patent.

Silva issued a ''compulsory license'' that would bypass Merck's patent on the AIDS drug efavirenz, a day after the Brazilian government rejected Merck's offer to sell the drug at a 30 percent discount, or $1.10 per pill, down from $1.57.

The country was seeking to purchase the drug at 65 cents a pill, the same price Thailand pays.

It was the first time Brazil has bypassed a patent, but Silva said Brazil would consider doing so again on any drug sold at unfair prices. ''Between our business and our health, we are going to take care of our health,'' he said after signing the decree.

Amy Rose, a spokeswoman for Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck, said earlier that the company would be ``profoundly disappointed if Brazil goes ahead with a compulsory license.''

''As the world's 12th largest economy, Brazil has a greater capacity to pay for HIV medicines than countries that are poorer or harder hit by the disease,'' Merck said in a statement after Silva's announcement.

A compulsory license is a legal mechanism that allows a country to make or buy generic versions of patented drugs while paying the patent holder only a small royalty.

Brazilian law and rules established under the World Trade Organization allow compulsory licenses in a health emergency or if the pharmaceutical industry uses abusive pricing.

After Thailand moved to override patents on three anti-AIDS drugs, including those made by Abbott Laboratories and Merck, the States placed Thailand on a list of copyright violators.

In Thailand's capital of Bangkok, AIDS activists rallied outside the U.S. Embassy on Thursday to protest that decision, calling the Thai government's move to slash the cost of pricey U.S.-made AIDS drugs a ``lifesaver. ''

The president of the U.S.-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Michael Weinstein, called Brazil's action a ''victory,'' saying in a statement: ``We salute the courage of countries such as Brazil, Thailand and Mexico who are fighting to ensure drug access for AIDS patients the world over.''

But the U.S.-Brazil Business Council said the decision was a ''major step backward'' in intellectual
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