By Ed Silverman, StatNews
In the latest battle between drug makers and the Colombian government, an industry trade group has asked the Colombian health minister to scrap a move that is designed to unilaterally lower the prices of hepatitis C drugs or, eventually, issue compulsory licenses.
The move comes after Colombian Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria last month issued a resolution to determine whether a so-called declaration of public interest should be pursued, a step needed to lower prices. In a letter sent to the minister on Monday, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America argued the resolution is “legally and procedurally deficient,” and should be revoked.
“Rather than demonstrating any lack of access to Hepatitis C medicines in Colombia, the (move) appears to be driven solely by a desire to use the process to secure drastic and arbitrary price reductions for an entire class of medicines,” the letter stated.
The trade group intimates that by pursuing its declaration, the Colombian government could undermine an existing trade pact with the U.S. and, moreover, its efforts to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an intergovernmental group of three dozen countries that was created to stimulate economic progress and world trade.
That tussle became a flashpoint in the debate over licensing, however, when staffers from both the U.S. Senate Finance Committee and the U.S. trade representative met with Colombian embassy officials in Washington, D.C., and warned that support would be withdrawn for a free trade agreement and $450 million in backing for a peace initiative between the Colombian government and Marxist rebels. The pressure sparked condemnation from some Democratic lawmakers that accused the U.S. trade rep of exerting undue pressure. Ultimately, the Colombian health minister issued a declaration of public interest anyway and unilaterally cut the price for Gleevec, which Novartis is appealing.
“The fact that more than one in a hundred persons is infected is actually a huge burden of the disease, perhaps not compared to some countries with super high rates of infection, but certainly compared to any other serious disease, and unless Colombia gets the drugs very cheap, it will not treat everyone that they could diagnose,” said Jamie Love of Knowledge Ecology International, an advocacy group.