It looks as though an impasse has been reached between drugmakers and Thailand to the extent that the issuing of compulsory licences for three cancer drugs looks almost certain.

A fifth round of talks between pharmaceutical companies and Thai healthcare authorities have again broken down, according to a report in the Bangkok Post. The newspaper quotes Siriwat Tiptaradol, secretary-general of Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration as saying that he would propose to Public Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla that the government go ahead with compulsory licences to make generic copies of Sanofi-Aventis’ Taxotere (docetaxel), Roche’s Tarceva (erlotinib) and Novartis’ Femara (letrozole).

Dr Siriwat said that Novartis has refused to lower the price of breast cancer drug Femara even though the Switzerland-based firm offered what was described an acceptable deal concerning the price of its leukaemia drug Gleevec (imatinib). Under the terms of that arrangement, Novartis would provide free medicinal treatment to 900 patients under the universal healthcare scheme as a trade-off for exemption from the compulsory licensing scheme, the Post said.

The Thai negotiators noted that they were not satisfied with an offer by Sanofi to reduce the price of lung and breast cancer drug Taxotere by 10% as a trade-off for a patent override, while Roche did not send any representatives to the negotiations.

Price-wise, the newspaper noted that Gleevec costs 900 baht per tablet, around $30, compared to the generic version's 50-70 baht, while Taxotere is priced at 26,500 baht per 80mg dose, compared to 4,000 baht for the copy. The retail price for Tarceva is 2,800-3,000 baht per tablet compared to 275-735 baht for the generic, while the difference for Femara is also considerable – 230 versus 7-10 baht.

Thailand has not been backward when it comes to taking on the pharmaceutical industry. The Health Ministry recently rejected an offer from Abbott Laboratories to cut the price on a new version of the HIV drug Kaletra (lopinavir/ritonavir) called Aluvia by 30% to around $1,000 per patient per year, saying the price quoted by Indian generic specialists Matrix Laboratories for a copycat version of Aluvia was less than $700.

Sanofi‘s problems with Thailand do not end with Taxotere. The Thai government slapped a compulsory licence on the blockbuster anti-platelet agent Plavix (clopidogrel) at the beginning of the year after it rejected Sanofi’s offer to buy the drug for 27 baht per tablet. The Franco-German drugmaker had also offered to supply 3.4 million tablets for the same price as one million, but Thailand again said that was too expensive.