The battle over breaking patents in Bangkok is growing more heated. BIO, the trade group for biotechs, wrote a letter earlier this week to the US Trade Representative and urged that Thailand be placed on a list for countries that are deemed to be the worst violators of intellectual property rights. This is called Priority Foreign Country. Thailand is already on the rung below, the Priority Watch list.
The move comes after Thailand recently issued compulsory licenses on four cancer meds- Taxotere, made by Sanofi-Aventis; Roche’s Tarceva; and Femara, which is sold by Novartis - and last year issued licenses on two AIDS meds and a blood thinner. These steps put the country, which claims the vast majority of the population is hard-pressed to afford these medications, at odds with pharma, which accuses the government of stealing. With one exception - Novartis' Gleevec - protracted negotiations failed to break the long-running impasse.
"In light of continued egregious and onerous policies relating to compulsory licensing of patents that systematically deny adequate and effective intellectual property protection, and the lack of any significant progress in addressing these policies, BIO uges USTR to designate Thailand as a Priority Foreign Country," Lila Feisee, managing drector of intellectual property at BIO, wrote in a Jan. 11 letter, which was distributed by Knowledge Ecology International, an activist group that has supported Thailand's efforts. (This is the letter).
"As noted in our previous comments to the USTR, Thailand’s policy appears to be driven in significant part by its own budget constraints. In particular, the Government’s issuance of compulsory licenses for drugs that treat non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and stroke or myocardial infarction, is particularly alarming. The medical management of such non-communicable diseases may be complex and costly, but it does not rise to the level of a public health emergency."
The letter was sent just a few days, however, after a new government took office in Bangkok and the new health minister already agreed to review the compulsory licensing controversy. Earlier this week, Chaiya Sasomsab told reporters that it “is not a big deal for the government to spend on the people’s health. We would lose much more than that if the United States decides to impose sanctions or boycott us over the issue.”