Abbott Labs spurns Thailand

CNNMoney.com

Pharmaceutical giant angered at country’s move
to make generic versions of HIV/AIDS drug, says it won’t launch new
medicines there.


BANGKOK
(Reuters) — U.S. drugs giant Abbott Laboratories said it would stop
launching new medicines in Thailand in protest at the army-backed
government’s move to override international drug patents.

The decision will not affect Abbott (Charts)
drugs already on sale in Thailand, which declared a “compulsory
licence” in January allowing it to make or buy generic versions of
Abbott’s Kaletra to treat HIV/AIDS.

“Thailand has chosen to break patents on numerous medicines,
ignoring the patent system. As such, we’ve elected not to introduce new
medicines there,” Abbott spokeswoman Jennifer Smoter told Reuters.

There
was no immediate reaction from the Health Ministry, which argues it
needs cheaper, copycat drugs to ensure wider access for Thailand’s 63
million people, including 580,000 living with HIV/AIDS.

About 30
AIDS activists and patients protested outside Abbott’s office in
Bangkok, calling for a boycott of the company’s products.

Paul
Cawthorne of Medicins Sans Frontieres called Abbott’s decision an
“immoral act.” Other critics accused Abbott of depriving Thailand’s
poor of lifesaving medicines, particularly a new formulation of Kaletra.

“Abbott
has the hubris to blacklist a courageous country like Thailand simply
trying to do the right thing for its people. Astounding,” Michael
Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said in a
statement.

The seven withdrawn drugs include the new version of
Kaletra, an antibiotic, a painkiller and medicines to fight blood
clots, arthritis, kidney disease and high blood pressure.

Abbott is believed to be the first
pharmaceutical maker to withhold new drugs from Thailand since the
government shocked drug makers late last year with its first compulsory
licence, for Efavirenz, an HIV-AIDS treatment made by Merck & Co (Charts).

Thailand has also issued one for Plavix, a heart disease medicine made by Bristol-Myers Squibb (Charts) and Sanofi-Aventis (Charts), the first time a developing nation as done so for such a treatment.

Although
legal under world trade rules, the licenses, which allow governments to
make or buy generic versions of medicines needed for public health
measures, stunned drug makers who received no prior warning.

Malaysia
and Indonesia were the first in Southeast Asia to issue such licenses
for AIDS drugs three years ago, but Thailand has gone farther in
challenging Big Pharma by targeting other drugs.

Health Minister
Mongkol na Songkhla told Reuters last month he was studying whether to
issue compulsory licenses for other “essential medicines” to fight
cancer, heart disease and other leading causes of death in Thailand.

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