[Ip-health] Stat, Pharmalot: Colombian health minister is warned not to sidestep Novartis patent

Zack Struver zack.struver at keionline.org
Thu May 12 11:46:43 PDT 2016


Colombian health minister is warned not to sidestep Novartis patent

​By ED SILVERMAN @Pharmalot
MAY 12, 2016

The Colombian health minister was warned directly last month by Colombian
Embassy officials in Washington D.C. to reconsider plans to sidestep a
Novartis drug patent over concerns the US government would rethink its
support for a peace initiative and trade treaty, according to a newly
disclosed letter.

The warning was one of two missives sent last month by the Colombian
Embassy just days after Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria indicated he may
issue a so-called “compulsory license,” which would allow a generic company
 to make a lower-cost version of the Gleevec leukemia treatment.

As we reported previously, the plan to issue a license, which is designed
to save Colombia about $12 million annually, angered Novartis and prompted
both the Senate Finance Committee and the US Trade Representative to seek
meetings with Colombian embassy officials to express their concerns.

​The flare-up is the latest example of an ongoing clash between the global
pharmaceutical industry and some governments over intellectual property
rights and access to affordable medicines. Drug makers say patent rights
are sometimes trampled on, while consumer groups argue compulsory licenses
are necessary and, moreover, are permitted under terms of a World Trade

The issue over the Novartis patent in Colombia, however, also shows signs
of becoming a heated diplomatic dispute.

In an April 28 letter, Andres Florez, the deputy chief of mission at the
Colombia Embassy in Washington D.C., wrote to Gaviria following a meeting
between embassy officials and Everett Eissenstat, the chief international
trade counsel for the Senate Finance Committee. The tone and content are
very similar to a letter Florez sent the day before to Colombian Foreign
Minister Maria Angela Holguin.

Eissenstat “mentioned that although Novartis is not an American company,
the US pharmaceutical industry is very worried by the fact that such a case
might become a precedent that could be applied for any patent in any
industry,” Florez wrote. “This, according to him, could tarnish Colombia’s
reputation regarding the respect of intellectual property rights and place
Colombia among the countries that would receive a special treatment.”

“Mr. Eissenstat also mentioned that if the Ministry of Health did not
correct this situation, the pharmaceutical industry in the United States
and related interest groups could become very vocal and interfere with
other interests that Colombia could have in the United States,” he

To that end, Florez mentioned US support for the Paz Colombia initiative.
This past February, the Obama administration offered to provide more than
$450 million to back peace efforts in Colombia, which waged a long-running
battle with Marxist rebels. Florez also cited a free-trade treaty between
the two countries, which obligates Colombia to comply with various
international trade laws. Colombia is already on the US Trade’s watch
listof countries that do an insufficient job of enforcing intellectual
property rights.

The Senate Finance Committee did not respond to a request for comment, but
on Wednesday sent a statement saying that “committee staff routinely meets
with foreign governments to seek clarifications on actions that may be
inconsistent with international trade obligations.”

For its part, Novartis has maintained that compulsory licenses should not
be used as a mechanism to force price negotiations and argued that
“damaging” precedents could be set. The company also insisted that the
price for Gleevec in Colombia is subject to government controls and that
generics are available in the country, although patient groups argue that
Novartis has thwarted generic availability.

Four years ago, the Colombian government tried to negotiate a lower price
for Gleevec, but failed. Patient groups urged the government to issue a
license and a committee recently decided that allowing generic versions
would be in the public interest by widening access and saving health care
dollars. Consumer groups note that Gleevec is on the World Health
Organization list of essential medicines.

“How is it possible that civilized people can tell (someone else) to choose
between peace or health?” said Andrea Carolina Reyes of Misión Salud, one
of the patient groups that urged the Colombian health minister to pursue a
compulsory license. “We feel ashamed by Colombian officials’ response to
(the US) intervention.”

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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