[Ip-health] Colombia Fears U.S. May Reject Peace Plan To Protect Pharma Profits

Zack Struver zack.struver at keionline.org
Thu May 12 07:35:38 PDT 2016


​Colombia Fears U.S. May Reject Peace Plan To Protect Pharma Profits

A leaked Colombian Embassy memo suggests the U.S. wants to preserve the
high price of cancer drug Gleevec.

05/11/2016 10:47 pm ET

Zach Carter
Senior Political Economy Reporter, The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — The Colombian Embassy is concerned that lowering the price of
a major cancer drug may jeopardize American funding for peace talks in the
South American nation, according to a leaked embassy memo

In February, President Barack Obama committed
$450 million to aid peace talks between the Colombian government and the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a Marxist rebel group known as
FARC. The money <http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSKCN0VD2XM> would
help the Colombian government fight the illegal drug trade and retrain FARC

But in an April 27 memo, Colombian diplomat Andrés Flórez said he was
worried the U.S. would withhold peace funding if the Colombian government
lowered prices on the drug Gleevec, also sold as Glivec. The memo was first
posted by the think tank Knowledge Ecology International.

Both the American government and Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical company
that makes Gleevec, want to maintain high prices for the drug, according to
the memo. The standoff over drug affordability could “escalate to the point
that it could impair the approval of the financing of the new initiative
‘Paz Colombia,’” the memo reads. Paz Colombia is the name for the peace aid
program Obama announced in February.

Novartis charges nearly double
Colombia’s per capita income for a year’s supply of Gleevec to treat a
single patient. As a result, the Colombian government is considering
issuing a much cheaper generic copy.

In his letter to Colombian Minister of External Affairs María Ángela
Holguín, Flórez suggested he felt pressure from both the Office of the U.S.
Trade Representative — a division of the Obama White House — and members of
the U.S. Congress with ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has received millions
of dollars in campaign contributions
from drug companies, and has benefitted from hundreds of thousands of
in pharmaceutical company donations to other outside groups. His son, Scott
Hatch, has lobbied
on behalf of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America — the
top lobbying group for the prescription drug industry. The Senate Finance
Committee has jurisdiction over U.S. trade policy.

“The Senate Finance Committee staff routinely meets with foreign
governments to seek clarifications on actions that may be inconsistent with
international trade obligations,” Julia Lawless, a spokeswoman for Hatch,
said in a statement.

Issuing generic drugs is consistent with World Trade Organization treaties
and the U.S. trade agreement with Colombia.

A spokesperson for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said USTR
met with Colombian officials “to discuss numerous intellectual property
issues in general after the release of the annual Special 301 report, which
covers a wide range of intellectual property issues all over the world.”

The 301 report lists countries that the U.S. government deems to have weak
intellectual property standards. The list is often used to pressure
countries into guaranteeing prescription drug monopolies.

The Colombian Embassy wouldn’t comment for this article.

In the memo, Flórez wrote that he also was concerned that making a generic
version of the cancer drug available would jeopardize Colombia’s ability to
participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade pact that Obama
recently signed with Asian and South American countries.

U.S. trade policy has prioritized pharmaceutical company profits for
decades. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have sought
intellectual property rules that would grant drug firms long-term
monopolies on their medications. Those monopolies immunize firms from
competition, allowing them to charge very high prices.

But the free-trade agreement inked between Colombia and the U.S. under
President George W. Bush appeared to signal a new direction. That pact,
ultimately approved
by Obama and Congress in 2011, included more flexible terms on drug
monopolies. It also included
a side letter acknowledging the Colombian government’s right to approve
generic drugs in cases of “extreme urgency.” Threatening to upend peace
talks over cancer drug prices would be a dramatic reversal of that

Both the Obama administration and Hatch have used trade policy to bolster
the prescription drug industry. The administration has been especially
with India
on generic drugs, and has disappointed Doctors Without Borders and other
global health groups with TPP, which included terms ensuring long-term drug
company monopolies on lifesaving medications.

A KEI translation of the memo is below.

In Washington, DC, on April 27, 2016

Attn: María Ángela Holguín

Minister of External Affairs

From: Andrés Flórez

Deputy Chief of Mission

Embassy in Washington, DC


Dear Madam Minister,

These past few weeks, several pharmaceutical companies in the United States
and interest groups have communicated with the embassy and the Commercial
Office to express their concerns regarding regulatory issues which,
according to them, affect the interests of this industry in Colombia. Among
other issues, they are concerned by the possible declaration of public
interest concerning a compulsory license for the drug known as GLIVEC and
produced by the pharmaceutical company NOVARTIS.

The possibility of an administrative act declaring a compulsory license on
the drug GLIVEC has become a topic of interest for the USTR and the US
Congress. For instance, tomorrow, we will attend, with the Director of the
Commercial Office, a meeting held at the request of the members of the
Senate Finance Committee who worry about the compulsory license process
mentioned above. Also, the USTR has requested a meeting with the Ambassador
Juan Carlos Pinzón in order to convey their major concern regarding this
issue as well as other related issues.

Given the direct link that exists between a significant group of members of
Congress and the pharmaceutical industry in the United States, the case of
GLIVEC is susceptible to escalate to the point that it could impair the
approval of the financing of the new initiative “Paz Colombia” as well as
become an issue in the framework of the free-trade treaty.

Moreover, the whole situation might have a negative impact on the
commercial interests of our country in the United States, which might even
weaken the support that this country could give us in case of a possible
future membership to the Trans-Pacific Partnership - TPP.

Given these facts, and following the instructions of the Ambassador Juan
Carlos Pinzón, we think that the National Government should assess the
measures considered and respond at its best interest to the concerns that
have been expressed. Likewise, we are of the opinion that it is necessary
to take a correction of our course in order to avoid claims against our

Best regards,


Andrés Flórez

[Deputy Chief of Mission]​

Zack Struver, Communications and Research Associate
Knowledge Ecology International
zack.struver at keionline.org
Twitter: @zstruver <https://twitter.com/zstruver>
Office: +1 (202) 332-2670 Cell: +1 (914) 582-1428

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