Thailand’s Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) says it will bring a 1 billion-baht lawsuit (around $30 million) for defamation against the lobby group, USA for Innovation, over the latter’s claims that HIV/AIDS treatments produced in the country are substandard.

The GPO has already filed criminal charges against the US group’s allegations, which were made in newspaper advertisements and on its website ( earlier this month after Thailand’s Public Health Ministry issued a compulsory licence for Merck & Co’s antiretroviral Stocrin/Sustiva (efavirenz). In its advertising campaign, USA for Innovation says that a 2005 study by Mahidol University had found that GPO-vir, a generic HIV/AIDS treatment manufactured by GPO, had just 39.5%-58% resistance, one of the worst cases of HIV drug resistance in the world.

The group also points out that Thailand is now the only country in Southeast Asia to be included on the US government’s Priority Watch List for intellectual property rights infringements. It attacks “Thailand’s theft of American and European medical technology at the expense of the poor and sick,” and claims that Thai Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla’s actions have “hurt jobs, investment and access to safe medicines for the people of Thailand.”

Announcing the lawsuit, GPO board chairman Dr Wichai Chokewiwat said that the Organisation’s responses to USA for Innovation’s attacks were necessary to counter its allegations and maintain the credibility of Thailand’s medical agencies. The 1 billion baht being sought by the lawsuit relates to the GPO’s annual medicines production capacity, which is estimated to be 5 billion baht, he added.

More compulsory licences to come?

Meantime, Health Minister Mongkol has said that he plans to issue two more compulsory licenses before the government elections are held in December. He declined to name the new products to be targeted, but said they will be treatments for the country’s leading killer diseases, particularly cancer. With the licenses already issued - for efavirenz, Abbott’s HIV/AIDS treatment Kaletra/Aluvia (lopinavir/ritonavir) and Sanofi-Aventis/Bristol-Myers Squibb’s blockbuster anti-clotting agent Plavix (clopidogrel) - this will bring Thailand’s total to five.

Mr Mongkol called on drugmakers to offer their products at “one price for the rich and one price for the poor,” as this would create a “win-win for everyone.” He also described as “fruitless” the talks aiming to resolve the compulsory license issue which were held earlier this month between Thai government representatives and US officials – the latter included Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Deputy US Trade Representative John Veroneau and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America chief executive Billy Tauzin, plus a number of legislators. By Lynne Taylor