A stand-off between Thailand and Novartis has been averted after the Swiss major agreed to provide its leukaemia drug Glivec free of charge if the Thai government drops plans to issue compulsory licences on the drug.

Mongkol Na Songkhla, the outgoing Thai public health minister, confirmed that a deal has been reached which will give free access to Glivec (imatinib) for patients who have household income per year of less than 1.7 million baht, or just under $52,000. The drugs will be supplied under the Glivec International Patient Assistance Programme-GIPAP).

Mr Mongkol said that "such a positive offer does not warrant the department to issue compulsory licensing for the drug" and added that he hopes other drug companies will follow Novartis’ lead. The Basel-based firm will continue selling the drug to patients in Thailand who can afford the market price, which is around 130,000 baht (or around $4,000) per month.

Generic versions of the drug manufactured in India cost 20-times less, which led the Thai authorities to consider issuing a compulsory licence. Though the Glivec issue has been settled, the threat of a compulsory licence still hangs over Sanofi-Aventis’ Taxotere (docetaxel), Roche’s Tarceva (erlotinib) and Novartis’ Femara (letrozole).