Brazil to Strip Patent on AIDS Drug
By MICHAEL ASTOR, Associated Press Writer
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) - Brazil's health
minister has moved to strip Roche pharmaceutical's patent on
the anti-AIDS (news - web sites) drug Nelfinavir after
negotiations failed to lower the price.
Jose Serra said Wednesday he would use a clause
in Brazil's 1997 intellectual property law that allows patents
to be broken in cases of national emergency or when companies
employ abusive pricing policies.
The decision came after six month of
negotiation ``and after exhausting all the possibilities for
an agreement,'' the ministry said in a statement. Roche will
continue to supply the drug until December 2001, when the
contract with the Health Ministry ends.
The move marks the first time Brazil has
stripped the patent on an anti-AIDS medication, despite
previous threats to do so.
In Geneva, where Roche is based, spokesman
Daniel Piller said the company was ``surprised'' by the news
and denied that negotiations had broken down.
``We are on good terms in negotiations with the
ministry of health and we were waiting to fix a date for
another meeting as previously agreed,'' he said Thursday.
``In our negotiations with the ministry of
health we had already given them discounts very close to what
they wanted,'' he said. He added that the company also had
made a certain amount of the drug available free of charge.
Because Nelfinavir has a U.S. patent, the
Brazilian (news - web sites) government should have consulted
with the United States, as it agreed to do when the two
countries settled their trade dispute in July, Piller added.
He said the company would now be checking
``exactly who did what and why'' before deciding what to do
Brazil, which has the highest number of AIDS
victims in Latin America, distributes a ``cocktail'' of
anti-AIDS drugs free to anyone who needs it. Last year, some
90,000 people received the drugs that would have cost each of
them up to $15,000.
Thanks largely to the drug handout, in just
four years the number of AIDS deaths in Brazil has fallen from
11,024 to 4,136. The program has been hailed by doctors as a
model for other developing countries, where few can afford
By manufacturing most of the drugs itself, the
government reduced costs by as much as 79 percent. But Brazil
has achieved those savings by ignoring drug patents.
With new anti-AIDS drugs coming to market, the
government said it might be necessary to employ compulsory
licensing if drug companies did not move to lower costs.
Brazil spends about $88 million a year, or 28
percent of its anti-AIDS budget, on Nelfinavir every year.
About a quarter of all Brazilian AIDS patients use the drug.
Last week, scientists at the government's
Farmanguinhos lab said they had successfully copied Nelfinavir
and were subjecting it to equivalency tests expected to last
According to the Health Ministry, the
government will realize a 40 percent savings by making the
drug at Farmanguinhos.