August 19, 2005
The Brazilian Ministry of Health on Thursday said it is again requesting that Abbott Laboratories lower the price of its antiretroviral drug Kaletra or Brazilian manufacturers will break the drug's patent and produce it at a lower cost, the New York Times reports. According to ministry spokesperson Estenio Brasileino, the government last week sent a letter to Abbott after several Brazilian drug makers notified the ministry that they could manufacture and market a generic version of Kaletra for 41 cents per pill, compared with Abbott's price of $1.17 per pill (Prada, New York Times, 8/19). In July, Brazil's health ministry -- under the leadership of former Health Minister Humberto Costa -- and Abbott said they had reached an agreement for Abbott to keep the government's annual expenses on Kaletra at current levels for the next six years and that Brazil would not break Abbott's patent to produce a generic equivalent of the drug. The Brazilian government had said it would break Abbott's patent on Kaletra unless the company lowered the drug's price 42% to 68 cents per pill (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/15). However, less than a week after the agreement was announced, incoming Brazilian Health Minister Jose Saraiva Felipe dismissed the agreement and said the country would continue to negotiate for a lower price, the Times reports.
"We had what we thought was a very good agreement," Abbott spokesperson Brian Kyhos said, adding that in light of the new demands, the company "will continue to seek a price level that Brazil can agree to and honor" (New York Times, 8/19). "We're prepared to manufacture Kaletra," Nubia Boechat, head of the government-owned drug manufacturer Farmanguinhos, said, adding, "We have the knowledge to develop the technology, and we can do it much cheaper." Brazil supplies antiretroviral treatment at no cost to about 163,000 HIV-positive residents under its National STD/AIDS Programme. Michel Lotrowska, a Brazil representative for Medecins Sans Frontieres' Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, said that an estimated 23,400 people in Brazil use Kaletra, making it the drug's largest market outside the developed world. According to Pedro Chequer, director of Brazil's AIDS program, the government could save up to $600 million over five years by producing the three best-selling antiretroviral drugs without paying licensing fees to the patent holders (Bloomberg News, 8/18).