[Ip-health] The Intercept: Leaks Show Senate Aide Threatened Colombia Over Cheap Cancer Drug

Zack Struver zack.struver at keionline.org
Mon May 16 11:06:18 PDT 2016


Leaks Show Senate Aide Threatened Colombia Over Cheap Cancer Drug

​Zaid Jilani
May 14 2016, 10:30 a.m.

LEAKED DIPLOMATIC LETTERS sent from Colombia’s Embassy in Washington
describe how a staffer with the Senate Finance Committee, which is led by
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, warned of repercussions if Colombia moves forward
on approving the cheaper, generic form of a cancer drug.

The drug is called imatinib. Its manufacturer, Novartis, markets the drug
in Colombia as Glivec. The World Health Organization’s List of Essential
Medicines last year suggested it as treatment not only for chronic myeloid
leukemia, but also gastrointestinal tumors. Currently, the cost of an
annual supply is over $15,000, or about two times the average Colombian’s

On April 26, Colombian Minister of Health Alejandro Gaviria announced plans
to take the first step in a multi-step process that could eventually result
in allowing generic production of the drug. A generic version of the drug
that recently began production in India is expected to cost 30 percent less
than the brand-name version.

Andrés Flórez, deputy chief of mission at the Colombian Embassy in
Washington, D.C., wrote letters on April 27 and April 28 to Maria Angela
Holguin of Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, detailing concerns he
had about possible congressional retaliation for such a move. The letters
were obtained by the nonprofit group Knowledge Ecology International, which
works on drug patent issues. They were also leaked to Colombian media
outlets El Espectador and NoticiasUno.

In the second letter, after a meeting with Senate Finance Committee
International Trade Counsel Everett Eissenstat, Flórez wrote that
Eissenstat said that authorizing the generic version would “violate the
intellectual property rights” of Novartis. Eissenstat also said 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,” according to the letter.

In particular, Flórez expressed a worry that “this case could jeopardize
the approval of the financing of the new initiative ‘Peace Colombia.’”

The Obama administration has pledged $450 million for Peace Colombia, which
seeks to bring together rebels and the government to end decades of
fighting that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and a
shattered civil society. These funds will be used for, among other things,
removing land mines. The country has the second-highest number of land-mine
fatalities in the world, behind only Afghanistan.

Hatch has close ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceutical and
health product manufacturers form the second-largest pool of donors to his
campaigns. The industry’s main trade association, the Pharmaceutical
Research and Manufacturers of America, spent $750,000 funding an outside
nonprofit that backed Hatch’s re-election in 2012. The lobbying group also
employed Scott Hatch, one of the senator’s sons, as a lobbyist, while
donating to his family charity, the Utah Families Foundation.

For his part, Eissenstat has won the “Lighthouse Award” at the annual
dinner of the Washington International Trade Association. WITA’s board of
directors is composed largely of government relations staff from major
corporations who help shape trade and intellectual property policy in their
favor: WalMart, Microsoft, and Gap all have representatives. In bestowing
the award on Eissenstat, WITA board member Bill Lane said the award is
given to a “shining light of the trade community.”

The same year, his boss Hatch received the dinner’s Congressional
Leadership Award.

Andrea Carolina Reyes, a pharmacist who works with the Colombia-based
medical nonprofit Misión Salud, called the pressure to suppress the cheaper
drug harmful. “I would … ask [Hatch] to consider that we’re talking about
people’s lives, and this needs to mean something to him,” she told The
Intercept. “In Colombia, we really have health constraints. There’s people,
they have no access to anything. They live hours from health institutions,
and they don’t have even the cheapest medicines.”

Neither Eissenstat nor Hatch responded to multiple requests for comment.
“We do not comment on internal correspondence,” Olga Acosta, press officer
at the Colombian Embassy, told The Intercept.​

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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