Stop pressuring Colombia over drug, say NGOs

Switzerland also took a stand in India on generic drug production Keystone

A group of Swiss and Colombian NGOs have asked the Swiss government to stop influencing Colombia while it considers allowing the generic manufacture of a Novartis leukaemia medication.

This content was published on August 18, 2015 - 16:57 and agencies

The Berne Declaration, together with a group of Swiss and Colombian organisations, sent federal authorities a letter Tuesday, stating that “granting a compulsory license to allow for the generic production at affordable prices of imatinib is extremely important in terms of public health gains for Colombian citizens.”

Colombia is currently considering taking measures that would allow the patented medication, also known as Glivec, to be produced by local companies.

Livia Leu, head of bilateral relations at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, wrote to Colombia’s health ministry in May and referred to the Novartis case. She said that compulsory licences are a “policy tool of last resort…tantamount to an expropriation of the patent owner and constitutes a deterrent to future research and development of innovative medicines and their placing on the market in Colombia.” 

The annual cost of the treatment with the Novartis drug is $20,000 (CHF20,500), a sum the NGOs deemed “colossal” in a country where the average annual income in 2014 was $12,500.

A matter of public interest

Following prolonged legal challenges in Colombia, Novartis was granted a patent for the drug, which is intended to treat certain types of leukaemia and abdominal tumours. The patent prohibited the production of generic versions of the drug, which were 70% cheaper than the original.

The letter on Tuesday requested that “Switzerland should refrain from further exercising political pressure on Colombia and other low and middle income country governments that plan to implement compulsory licences or other TRIPS (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) flexibilities for public health purposes."

The letter also referred to the World Trade Organisation’s Doha Declaration, which states that “each member has the right to grant compulsory licences and the freedom to determine the grounds upon which such licences are granted”.

In November 2014, a group of Colombian NGOs had asked the health ministry to declare that access to Glivec is a matter of public interest.

Last year, the issue of pharmaceutical patents was a stumbling point in trade negotiations between Switzerland and India.

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