Earlier this week, top lawmakers in the House of Representatives lambasted U.S. trade officials for allegedly pressuring the Colombian government to reject a compulsory license for Novartis’ ($NVS) cancer med Gleevec. Senate peers are also weighing in on the issue and chastising the officials for bad behavior.
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in a letter to U.S. trade representative Michael Froman said that they’re “alarmed” by recent reports saying that officials discouraged Colombia from issuing the license. A compulsory license would allow generic versions of Gleevec, or Glivec as it’s known in some countries, to be sold in Colombia.
Earlier this month, two leaked letters written by Andrés Flórez, a representative of the Embassy of Colombia in Washington, D.C., showed trade tensions tied to the issue. Flórez said that he met with Everett Eissentat, chief international trade counsel of the Senate Finance Committee, and that Eissenstat pressured Colombia not to forge ahead with the license.
The Finance committee representative allegedly threatened Colombian diplomats that the move would result in no funding for President Obama’s $450 million “Paz Colombia” peace initiative.
But issuing compulsory licenses is “expressly permitted” under international trade rules and “can be an effective means to make medicines available and affordable,” Sanders and Brown wrote in their letter to Froman. The pair also called lawmakers’ attempts to dissuade Colombia by threatening funding for the peace initiative “unconscionable.”
“We object to any efforts to intimidate and discourage Colombia’s government from taking measures to protect the public health of Colombians in a way that it appropriate, effective, and consistent with the country’s trade and public health obligations,” Sanders and Brown wrote.
Now, the senators want U.S trade officials to “immediately and publicly clarify” that compulsory licenses are allowed under international trade agreements, the pair said. Sanders and Brown are also asking the officials to issue a statement underscoring their commitment to public health and free trade.
“With these clarifications, we believe the Colombian government can proceed without undue influence and decide whether a compulsory license for Glivec is in Colombia’s public health’s interest,” the senators wrote.
Colombian officials have tried to work with Novartis to lower the price for Gleevec. A 400 mg tablet of the drug costs 129,000 Colombian pesos, about $43. The Colombian government wants to lower the price to $18.50, but Novartis has reportedly hedged on pricing.
Colombia recently said that the clock is ticking on a deal. “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 last week.
Novartis said it’s still in the game, though. The company 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."
- read the letter (PDF)
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