Novartis ($NVS) has agreed to work with Colombia to lower the price of its cancer drug, Gleevec, to prevent the country from issuing a compulsory license for the med. But the clock is ticking on a deal, Colombian health officials said.
“We have not shut the door to negotiations. We’re keeping it open, but not for much longer,” Colombian Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria told Reuters earlier this week. The country’s government has asked Novartis to lower the price of Gleevec, or Glivec as it’s known in some countries, or else it will allow generic companies to produce cheap rivals.
A 400 mg tablet of Gleevec costs 129,000 Colombian pesos, or about $43. The Colombian government wants that number lowered to $18.50, but Novartis is dragging its heels on pricing, according to the Reuters story.
The Swiss drugmaker has “been very reticent,” Gaviria told the news outlet. “They said they do not want to negotiate under the threat of compulsory licensing.”
Novartis said that it is "actively seeking a resolution to discussions around our Glivec patent in Colombia that will benefit patients, innovation and the healthcare system," the company told FiercePharma in an email. "Discussions with stakeholders, including the Colombian ministries of Health and Trade, have covered a range of topics--none of which have been agreed or finalized."
Still, playing nice with Colombia is important for Novartis, especially given the diplomatic implications of the situation. If Colombia issues a compulsory license for Gleevec, it could violate an existing free trade agreement between the U.S. and Colombia, complicate the country’s place in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and jeopardize President Obama’s $450 million ‘Paz Colombia’ peace initiative, the Embassy of Columbia’s deputy chief of mission Andrés Flórez wrote in letters leaked earlier this week.
Flórez in one letter said that he met with Everett Eissenstat, chief international trade counsel of the Senate Finance Committee. Eissenstat said that the U.S. pharma industry is worried that the Colombia’s decision to issue a compulsory license “might become a precedent that could be applied for any patent in any industry,” Flórez said. Eissenstat also allegedly threatened Colombian diplomats that if the country moved ahead with its plan, it could result in less funding for the Paz Colombia project.
The letters riled some health groups. Nonprofit Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) and others recently sent a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Orrin Hatch to complain about Eissenstat’s move.
The political action described in Flórez’s letters, if true, represents a “highly inappropriate and wholly objectionable attempt to interfere with the right of the Colombian government to proceed with this compulsory licensing through threats and distortions,” the groups said. “Unless the United States and other governments are willing to place limits on the monopolies they grant, we all stand to be harmed by excessive prices and barriers to access to lifesaving medicines.”
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