The recently appointed head of Thailand's Food and Drug Administration resigned today amid controversy over the new government's plan to review a policy of overriding patents on several expensive cancer-fighting drugs, theAssociated Press writes.
Chatree Banchuen was named secretary general of the FDA last week, making him Bangkok's chief negotiator with drugmakers over pricing and licensing terms. But he decided to resign because he felt "uncomfortable with the politics," explaining that critics had brought up old, unproven allegations linking him to corruption in a computer procurement project in 2003. He called the allegations "politically motivated and groundless," without elaborating. The new Thai government expects to complete a review of its compulsory licensing policy in two weeks, The Bangkok Post reports.
Chatree's predecessor, Siriwat Thiptharadon, was transferred to an inactive post last Tuesday by the new government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. Siriwat called his transfer unfair, charging it was because he supported compulsory licensing of drug patents. Siriwat was the architect of the government's policy leading to the issuing of compulsory licenses on Jan. 4 for four cancer meds.
In the past two years, the Thai government has also issued compulsory licenses for several AIDS and heart drugs, drawing criticism from pharma and biotechs, which charge Bangkok with stealing intellectual property and dispute whether the circumstances in Thailand qualify for such licenses under World Trade Organization rules. A recent WTO mission, however, found that Thailand's policy is legal.
Newly appointed Public Health Minister Chaiya Sasomsup says the ministry will proceed with a planned review of compulsory licensing on the cancer meds, while ensuring patients have affordable access to the medicines. He says that if negotiations fail to get drugmakers to lower their prices, compulsory licensing would be maintained.
Chaiya earlier said the government planned to review the drug licensing policy amid growing reports that drugmakers were lobbying Washington to apply trade sanctions against Thailand. The US Trade Rep has dampened speculation about such a move, but is currently reviewing whether to downgrade Thailand's status as a trading partner.
The four drugs issued compulsory licenses on Jan. 4 by the outgoing government in Bangkok were Taxotere, produced by Sanofi-Aventis, Roche’s Tarceva, and Femara, which is sold by Novartis. A compulsory license issued to make generic versions of Gleevec, a leukemia drug, was later cancelled after Novartis agreed to supply it free to hundreds of Thai patients.