Brazil intends to break the patents of four anti-retroviral medications, if American laboratories are unwilling to concede the country the right to produce these substances. The so-called voluntary licensing was solicited on Monday, March 14, in a letter from the Ministry of Health to the laboratories Merck Sharp & Dohme, Abbot, and Gilead Science Incorporation.
The Ministry’s secretary of Health Protection, Jarbas Barbosa, says that the reason the request was made at this moment is that Brazilian laboratories will be ready to produce these medications in a year, at most, and this is expected to result in substantial savings for the country in Aids treatment.
“The expectation is to halve our current expenses,” he estimates. He adds: “Just to get some idea, over US$ 169.9 million (R$ 470 million) are spent on these drugs alone each year.”
With voluntary licensing, Brazil would assume responsibility for paying royalties, a partial payment for the right to manufacture the patented anti-retroviral remedies.
If the laboratories refuse to grant the request, the Ministry of Health guarantees that it will break the patents and start to produce the medications here. “These are the remedies that cost the Ministry the most,” Barbosa argues.
The American laboratories should declare their position by early May. If they agree to let Brazil manufacture the drugs, they and the Ministry of Health can negotiate a timetable for technology transfer and work out the costs of the patent.
The secretary believes that the laboratories will agree this time to the voluntary licensing. “They know we mean business when we talk about decreeing compulsory licensing,” he underscores. Compulsory licensing is, in effect, patent-breaking.
At present Brazil produces eight of the 16 drugs used in the Aids “cocktail.” When the country begins to produce the four for which voluntary licensing was solicited, only the four remaining ones will have to be imported.
Aids medications have been manufactured in Brazil since 1994, and the Ministry of Health calculates that 180 thousand patients will be cared for this year.
Translation: David Silberstein