Saturday, March 8, 2008

Thai Government Commissions Two-Week 'Study' To Find Country-Wide Cancer Health Emergency: Seeks To Justify Compulsory Licenses

No cancellation of CL for cancer drugs : Chaiya

by Pongphon Sarnsamak

The Nation.

March 3, 2008

The Public Health Ministry will not revoke the recent enforcement of compulsory licensing for cancer drugs and will retain it as a key mechanism to negotiate with drug firms to reduce product prices, said Public Health Minister Chaiya Sasomsab Monday.

"The use of compulsory licensing must be continued alongside the negotiation with pharmaceutical companies to reduce the price of drug products," he said.

The Health Ministry has to retain compulsory licensing as an important tool to help give patients access to livesaving drugs. But the drugs, upon which compulsory licensing was imposed by his predecessor, Dr Mongkol Na Songkla, had not yet been approved by the previous Cabinet, he said.

Moreover, the Ministry of Commerce had informed him that the compulsory licensing of cancer drugs would affect Thailand's international trade, particularly with the United States, which may designate a country as a "Priority Foreign Country" if it has an adverse impact on relevant US products.

This was the reason why the Health Ministry earlier announced a revision of the compulsory licensing enforcement for cancer drugs.

The drugs for which compulsory licensing was imposed on January 4 are docetaxel, sold as Taxotere by Sanofi Aventis; erlotinib, sold as Tarceva by Roche; and letrozole, sold as Femara by Novartis. All are expensive and the poor could not afford for treatment.

"Some information and the process of the recent imposition of compulsory licensing for cancer drugs was not legal because it was not imposed by Cabinet resolution," he said.

To implement compulsory licensing and not affect international trade, Chaiya had assigned the National Health Security Office, the National Cancer Institute and health experts to calculate the total number of patients suffering from leukaemia and breast, lung and gastric cancer, which would help the ministry estimate the budget for imported drugs.

A study is now in process and is expected to conclude in the next two weeks. The results will then be submitted to the Cabinet for a decision on this controversial issue.

However, he said it is the duty of the Minister of Commerce to make the decision to revoke or retain compulsory licensing.

Government Pharmaceutical Organisation chairman, Vichai Chokewiwat said the recent imposition of compulsory licensing for cancer drugs could not be revoked by the Ministry of Commerce because the 1992 Patent Law's Article 51 allows any Ministry to announce compulsory licensing for the noncommercial use without approval by the Ministry of Commerce.

He said if the government makes a decision to cancel the recent compulsory licensing it would violate the constitution and the National Health Security Office Act, which appoints the government to provide cheap drugs and effective treatment for patients.

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