The government of Thailand has said it plans to buy more generic HIV/AIDS drugs from India because it cannot obtain acceptable discounts from the manufacturers of the patented products.

Public Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla has said the government will place a second order for generic versions of efavirenz (sold under patent as Stocrin by Merck & Co and Sustiva by Bristol-Myers Squibb) from Matrix Laboratories of Hyderabad and is also readying orders for the Indian firm’s generic versions of Abbott Laboratories’ HIV/AIDS drugs Kaletra and Aluvia (lopinavir/ritonavir) and of BM-S and Sanofi-Aventis’ anti-platelet agent Plavix (clopidogrel).

Discussions have been continuing on around a twice-weekly basis between the drug majors and Thai Food and Drug Administration director general Siriwat Thiptharadol, he added. Merck has offered Stocrin for 726 baht ($22) per month and has also said it would provide, free, sufficient supplies of a liquid version of the drug to treat 2,500 children a year, also covering the costs of their diagnoses and training health workers to treat them.

Sanofi has offered Plavix for 27 baht per tablet and also said it would supply 3.4 million tablets for the same price as one million, while Abbott is offering Aluvia for $1,000 per patient per year. However, these offers are insufficient, said the minister, who pointed out that the Indian-manufactured generics would be available only to patients who cannot afford the patented versions.

Moreover, he added, the government is also considering issuing compulsory licenses for a number of unnamed for drugs for breast and blood cancers, for the treatment of poor patients.

US legislators protest government policy on Thailand

Meantime, 35 Members of the US Congress have sent a letter to US Trade Representative Susan Schwab, urging her to remove Thailand from the US government’s Special 301 Priority Watch List of serious intellectual property rights infringers. They have told Ambassador Schwab that it is “difficult” to interpret the decision to add Thailand to the List “as anything other than retaliation for Thailand’s recent actions” in issuing compulsory licenses, and asked her for its removal.

Requesting a response from her by July 9, they also urge Ambassador Schwab to “abandon any further retaliation for Thailand’s public health efforts,” and to “commit to respecting the rights of [World Trade Organization] members to freely exercise public health flexibility under the [Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights] agreement and the Doha declaration, including compulsory licensing.” By Lynne Taylor