Abbott Laboratories has decided to cut the price of its AIDS drug Kaletra by more than half in some of the world’s poorest countries in a move that is being seen as an attempt to end the stand-off between the US drugmaker and Thailand which has overridden the firm’s patents on the medicine.

Abbott said that it had been approached by the World Health Organization’s director-general, Margaret Chan, to discuss “how to improve affordability and access while maintaining incentives to support developing new medicines” and has decided to offer Kaletra (lopinavir/ritonavir) to the governments of more than 40 low and low-middle income countries (as defined by the World Bank) and to non-governmental organisations for $1,000 per patient per year. This is “lower than any generic price available in the world today for this medicine,” Abbott said, noting that it is approximately 55% less than the average current price for these countries.

The Illinois-based group said it is taking this action in order to further increase access and address the debate around pricing of HIV medicines. It added that “the patents of scientists and inventors must exist so that there are incentives for sustained research and development. Without this system, the miracle drugs the world enjoys today, including HIV medicines, would not exist.”

Abbott went on to refer specifically to the situation in Thailand. Last month the firm said that it will not market any new drugs there following the government's decision to issue a compulsory license for Kaletra despite its valid patents but has now adopted what would appear to be a more conciliatory tone, saying that it “appreciates and fully respects the suggestion of director-general Chan that more work needs to be done with the government of Thailand to achieve a positive outcome.” Meantime, Kaletra remains available in Thailand and will be eligible for the new price, though Abbott is not yet planning to sell a new heat-stable form of Kaletra in Thailand, which eliminates the need for expensive cold storage.

Suchart Chongprasert, an official from Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration, told the Associated Press that “Abbott did not say that they wanted us to revoke the compulsory license. There was no condition. They were just here to offer the price reduction so that people can have access to their medicines." Dr Suchart added: "We want to thank the company for their understanding of our position and the offer that they made which will benefit Thai patients."

Abbott opens huge Humira facility in Puerto Rico

Meantime, Abbott has announced the official opening of its new state-of-the-art biologics manufacturing facility in Puerto Rico to support the long-term supply of its fully human monoclonal antibody Humira (adalimumab) and other future biologics. The new plant, in Barceloneta, is the firm’s single-largest capital investment to date, costing approximately $450 million, and is now the main production facility for Humira, which has approvals for rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, as well as ankylosing spondylitis and Crohn's disease.