Brazil Allows Generic AIDS Drug, Breaks Merck’s Patent

This morning, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva agreed to issue a “compulsory license” to allow a generic version of <"">Merck’s AIDS drug, efavirenz, a move that would override Merck’s patent protection. Brazil’s Health Ministry believes the decision will save the country as much as $240 million because generic alternatives will cost less than half as much as Merck’s branded drug. It is believed that 75,000 Brazilians currently use the drug.

In a speech defending his decision, President Silva said, “It is not possible for anyone to get rich with the misery of others. In a choice between our trade and our health, we will take care of our health. We are taking an important step that is valid for this drug, but also for as many others as are necessary.”

In response, a Merck statement expressed “profound” disappointment with the move and said, threateningly, “This expropriation of intellectual property sends a chilling signal to research-based companies about the attractiveness of undertaking risky research on diseases that affect the developing world.”

Recently, the government of Thailand granted three compulsory licenses for generic drugs that infringed on the patents of U.S. companies, including a license for generic efavirenz. This week, the U.S. government responded by placing Thailand on its Priority Watch List for intellectual-property-rights violations, a move that drew protests outside the American Embassy in Bangkok.

Brazil’s decision to grant a compulsory license for generic efavirenz came after negotiations between Merck and the Brazilian government broke down earlier this week. Ironically, Brazil was seeking a pricing plan similar to that offered to Thailand, which can buy the brand-name drug at a rate of $0.65 per pill, rather than the full $1.59 per pill. Merck had offered Brazil a rate of $1.10 per pill.

“In announcing its intention to issue a compulsory license for Merck’s AIDS drug Efavirenz, Brazil is once again leading the way to affordable AIDS drug access for every nation,” said Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). “We salute the courage of countries such as Brazil, Thailand, and Mexico who are fighting to ensure drug access for AIDS patients the world over. Today is a victory for AIDS activists and patients everywhere, and proof that drug companies will go down in defeat every time they place themselves in the way of justice for AIDS patients.”

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