Activists rally against US pharma giant - Abbott's Greed

Activists rally against US pharma giant

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Want govt to decide if drug withdrawal legal


Around 100 health activists rallied at the Commerce Ministry yesterday to press it to decide whether the move by Abbott Laboratories to withdraw the planned introduction of new drugs into the country violates the law. The rally was also part of a worldwide protest against the US drug giant's stance after the government's decision to issue compulsory licensing to override patents on its key Aids drug Kaletra.

The decision allows the country to import or produce the generic version to expand public access to affordable medicine.

Protesters against Abbott, including pharmaceutical science academics as well as Aids and consumer rights groups, submitted a petition to Siripol Yodmuangcharoen, director-general of the Internal Trade Department.

They also asked the department to set up a panel to investigate the issue, and to review the drug pricing system within three months.

We want to know if the company's action is legitimate or not since its action affects the opportunity of all Thais to access newly-invented medicines necessary for advanced medical treatment, said Nimit Tienudom, chairman of the Aids Access Network.

The two-page petition mainly questions whether the drug firm's action is against the Trade Competition Law.

The withdrawal of registration with the Food and Drug Administration affected not only patients in need of advanced medicinal treatment but also distributors incapable of importing 10 new drugs for use in the country, the letter says.

In addition, imports of Abbott drugs cost over 1.16 billion baht in 2005.

Any withdrawal of the medicine without appropriate reason may result in an insufficient amount of related drugs reserved for treating patients, it adds.

About 10,000 copies of pamphlets were also distributed in the business district of Silom to publicise the problem of affordable drug access in Thailand and campaign for a boycott of medicines and other products of the US pharmaceutical firm in response to its action.

Meanwhile, two US law professors criticised Abbott's law firm Baker & McKenzie for misleading the public that the government's move to resort to compulsory licences was unlawful under the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips).

Brook K. Baker, a professor at Northeastern University, and Sean Flynn from Washington College said the Trips agreement contained no limitations on how compulsory licences can be granted.

They quoted the agreement stated in the Doha Declaration, released at the end of the World Trade Organisation meeting in November 2001, as saying: Each member has the right to grant compulsory licences and the freedom to determine the grounds upon which such licences are granted.

Thus, if Thailand wanted to conserve resources in its world-renowned HIV/Aids treatment programme, that decision was 100% lawful, they said.

Public Health Minister Mongkol na Songkhla said Brazil and five other countries had asked for information regarding Thailand's move on compulsory licensing for the drug before proceeding with similar policies.

Brazil is likely to issue compulsory licensing for the Aids drug Effavirenz after the company declined to reduce the price from $1.59 (52 baht) to $0.65 (21 baht) per tablet, as requested by the government