[RIO DE JANEIRO] Brazil should break the patents on three HIV/AIDS drugs, whose cost could jeopardise national anti-HIV efforts, a Brazilian health agency has advised .
The recommendation of the Brazilian National Health Council on 11 August would allow the country to make generic HIV drugs that are much cheaper than their brand name versions.
The council says this year alone Brazil will spend U$420 million buying drugs for 136,000 patients. Eighty per cent of this will be spent on three drugs: lopinavir, made by Abbott Laboratories, nelfinavir by Merck Sharp and tenofovir by Gilead.
The high cost of brand-name drugs is threatening the sustainability of the Brazilian Program for the Combat of AIDS, which is widely regarded as a model for fighting HIV/AIDS in developing countries, says the council.
For several months now, the government has been negotiating with the pharmaceutical companies that hold the patents to reduce the price of the three drugs.
Under the internationally agreed TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement, if the nation's health is at threat, a developing country can invoke a 'compulsory license' allowing them to make drugs without paying the patent-holder.
Brazil's 1996 intellectual property law also allows patents to be broken when companies use exploitative pricing policies.
Brazil threatened three years ago to break nelfinavir's patent, but it eventually negotiated a lower price with the drug company. Earlier this year, the country said it would break the patent on lopinavir, a threat it dropped after Abbott Laboratories agreed to drop the price of the drug from U$1.17 to U$0.68 for one capsule.
But last week, an announcement from Brazilian public laboratories that they could make the drug for U$0.40 kick-started new negotiations.
Because of intense price negotiations and the volume of drugs it buys, Brazil pays far less than other Latin American countries do for HIV/AIDS drugs. For lopinavir, for example, Mexico pays U$2.40 per capsule and Argentina U$1.97.
On 11 August, the council recommended that Brazil immediately begin producing the drugs locally, strengthen state laboratories and provide more financial resources for research.
It added that any commercial retaliation on the part of the companies against Brazil for breaking the patents should be considered an illegal act.
Council member Carlos Duarte says the Brazilian health ministry has 30 days to approve or suggest changes to the council's recommendation.
The National Health Council is composed of representatives of consumers, government officials and companies.