[Ip-health] sign-on request RE: 15 House Dems Press USTR to Clarify Position on Compulsory Licensing of cancer drug patent in Colombia

Steven Knievel sknievel at citizen.org
Thu May 26 08:51:14 PDT 2016

Hello all --

I wanted to share two pieces related to this story:

Firstly, I'd like to invite organizations participating in this list to join Knowledge Ecology International, Oxfam America and Public Citizen (and many others) as signatories on a letter to President Obama on this subject. 

In order to increase chances for impact on the ground we are requesting that organizations wishing to sign on email me no later than 2:00pm (EDT) tomorrow, Friday the 27th. sknievel at citizen.org  

I have copied the content of the letter to the bottom of this email.

And second, folks following this should see this excellent write up from Stephanie Burgos of Oxfam America: http://politicsofpoverty.oxfamamerica.org/2016/05/does-colombia-really-have-to-choose-between-peace-and-public-health/  

Thank you all for your time and attention to this developing story.


p.s. The letter for your consideration:

Dear President Obama,

As organizations concerned with access to medicines and U.S. aid to support peace in Colombia, we write to you with great alarm over messages received by the Colombian government from U.S. officials that U.S. aid could be at risk as a result of Colombia’s actions to protect public health.  We respectfully request that you publicly clarify this matter and set the record straight. We believe the United States should support both Colombia’s efforts to achieve peace and to protect public health.

It was recently reported that Colombia’s  Ministry of Foreign Relations and Ministry of Health each received a letter from its Washington, D.C. Embassy in late April describing perceived pressure from the U.S. Congress, in a meeting with Senate Finance Committee majority staff, as well as from the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) regarding Colombia’s pending decision on whether to issue a compulsory license for the leukemia drug imatinib (marketed in Colombia by Swiss drug manufacturer Novartis as Glivec). The letters expressed concern that Colombian interests in the United States would be put at risk if the country moves forward with the issuance of the license, including U.S. support for Paz Colombia, the Administration’s signature $450 million aid initiative to advance peace in Colombia. 

The USTR and Senate Finance Committee staff have denied threatening funding for Paz Colombia if a compulsory license for imatinib is issued. But they have not denied making it clear that Colombia should not issue the license and could suffer consequences if it does. 

Currently, imatinib is priced in Colombia at nearly double the country’s GDP per capita, and Novartis has rejected the Colombian government’s offer to negotiate a price reduction for the treatment. High prices for any important medicine impose a burden on the public health system responsible for providing it, and lead to the rationing of treatment and other health services. 

Colombia´s Ministry of Health and Social Protection has proposed to declare access to the cancer medicine imatinib under competitive conditions to be a matter of public interest. The public interest declaration should lead to the grant of a compulsory license on the patent held by Novartis, facilitating generic competition and reducing prices.

Article 31 of the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (WTO TRIPS Agreement) permits all WTO members, including Colombia, to issue compulsory licenses at any time on grounds of their choosing. The WTO’s “Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health” affirms this right, supporting “WTO members’ right to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all.”

Further, the U.S. “May 10th Agreement” of 2007, expressly incorporated certain public health safeguards in the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement and preserved Colombia’s right to issue compulsory licenses for patented inventions.

Opposing trading partners’ rights to issue compulsory licenses would be in contradiction with longstanding U.S. policy obligations, and Colombia's issuance of a compulsory license on imatinib would be fully consistent with Colombia’s international obligations.

Unfortunately, reports on this matter suggest that not only are congressional and Administration officials attempting to thwart the issuance of such a license, but they are doing so in a way that implies a grave and immoral threat to the people of Colombia.

More than 50 years of war in Colombia has claimed the lives of more than 220,000 people. Since 2000, more than eight million victims have registered with the Colombian government’s National Unit for the Integral Attention and Reparation of Victims (Unidad para la Atención y Reparación Integral a las Víctimas). Violent conflict within the country has internally displaced more than 6 million Colombians and has resulted in the forced disappearance of more than 25,000 Colombians since 1985. 

Thankfully, now there exists the greatest opportunity for a lasting peace in Colombia in a generation, and U.S. assistance through the Paz Colombia aid package will play an integral role in consolidating such a peace through support and monitoring. We welcome the Administration’s vocal support for the peace process and the implementation of a resulting peace agreement. However, it is wholly inappropriate, reprehensible, and intolerable for anyone from your Administration or the U.S. Congress to ask Colombia to choose between peace and its people’s health.

Our organizations join together in respectfully calling for your Administration to clarify publicly that no action taken by Colombia towards expanding access to medicines for its people, and specifically regarding the issuance of a compulsory license on imatinib, will affect U.S. support for the peace process in Colombia. We are asking for similar clarification from Congress.

[organizational sign-ons]

-----Original Message-----
From: Ip-health [mailto:ip-health-bounces at lists.keionline.org] On Behalf Of Andrew S. Goldman
Sent: Wednesday, May 25, 2016 6:02 PM
To: Ip-health at lists.keionline.org
Subject: [Ip-health] 15 House Dems Press USTR to Clarify Position on Compulsory Licensing of cancer drug patent in Colombia


May 25, 2016

Kevin Parker, (202) 226-3354

House Democrats Press USTR to Clarify Position on Compulsory Licensing for Generic Medicines in Colombia

WASHINGTON, DC – A group of 15 House Democrats today sent a letter to U.S.
Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman urging the Administration to clarify its position on compulsory licensing for generic medicines in Colombia.

The letter was led by Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI), and also signed by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Peter Welch (D-VT), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), John Lewis (D-GA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), David E. Price (D-NC), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), and Sam Farr (D-CA).

“As you know, the issuance of compulsory licenses is permissible under U.S.
trade agreements and the WTO Agreement…We therefore find it deeply troubling that U.S. officials may not be respecting the Doha Declaration,”
the Members wrote. “There are growing concerns about the very high and increasing costs of pharmaceuticals in the United States and in other nations.  And the annual price of this medicine in Colombia is almost twice as much as the average annual income per person in Colombia. As policymakers struggle to address this issue, we should not seek to limit the existing, agreed upon flexibilities public health authorities have to address these concerns. We ask that you clarify the position the Administration has taken in meetings with Colombian officials on this important issue as soon as possible.”

Read the full letter here.


Andrew S. Goldman
Counsel, Policy and Legal Affairs
Knowledge Ecology International
andrew.goldman at keionline.org // www.twitter.com/ASG_KEI
tel.: +1.202.332.2670
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