For those of you who were at ‘Consilence’ yesterday, it would be hard to forget the engaging and very memorable final session we had on ‘Compulsory Licensing and Compensatory Commons’. Prof. Srividya Ragavan alluded to the letter submitted to the USTR, Michael Froman, by a group of 15 (fifteen) Democrats urging the administration to clarify its position on compulsory licensing for generic medicines in Colombia. You can read the full news report here and the letter submitted here.
The US and the Red Queen like getting their way
The letter submitted on May 25, 2016, expresses concern about recent news reports that US officials may have discouraged Colombian government officials from issuing a compulsory license on cancer medication, ‘Gleevec’ produced by Novartis. The letter mentions that discouraging the use of compulsory licenses would be inconsistent with the Doha Declaration which recognises flexibilities that WTO members have to protect public health.
Colombian officials were also worried that should they refuse to toe the line, a USD 450 million deal to aid peace efforts in Colombia may be in jeopardy. As Huffington Post reported here and here , so intense was the pressure exerted that Colombian diplomat Andres Florez sent two letters to the Colombian government emphasising the ramifications on the peace deal, ‘Paz Colombia’ if the Colombian government proceeded with plans to compulsorily license the cancer drug. Translated copies of the letters submitted are available here. and here. The letter mentions concerns raised by the US that such a case might set a precedent that could be applied for any patent in any industry.
Also interesting are the points made in this article published in, The Politics of Poverty which puts this entire discussion in perspective, it mentions that while it is well known that ‘Gleevec’ is one of the top selling drugs of Novartis, its patent expires in the US this year while it will continue in effect for another 2 (years) in Colombia, a move to issue a compulsory license at this stage will have a huge impact on revenues for Novartis. Novartis has also recently announced restructuring of its pharmaceutical division into two units with one focused entirely on cancer drugs, Colombia’s actions will have a direct impact on revenue streams.
This news of course bodes well for the Indian position on compulsory licensing and we will keep you updated on any other developments. I will link the YouTube video to the session yesterday, once we have it ready. Let’s wait to see how the action unfolds in Colombia.
Image from here