LEAKED DIPLOMATIC LETTERS sent from Colombia’s Embassy in Washington describe how a staffer with the Senate Finance Committee, which is led by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, warned of repercussions if Colombia moves forward on approving the cheaper, generic form of a cancer drug.
The drug is called imatinib. Its manufacturer, Novartis, markets the drug in Colombia as Glivec. The World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicineslast year suggested it as treatment not only for chronic myeloid leukemia, but also gastrointestinal tumors. Currently, the cost of an annual supply is over $15,000, or about two times the average Colombian’s income.
On April 26, Colombian Minister of Health Alejandro Gaviria announced plans to take the first step in a multi-step process that could eventually result in allowing generic production of the drug. A generic version of the drug that recently began production in India is expected to cost 30 percent less than the brand-name version.
Andrés Flórez, deputy chief of mission at the Colombian Embassy in Washington, D.C., wrote letters on April 27 and April 28 to Maria Angela Holguin of Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, detailing concerns he had about possible congressional retaliation for such a move. The letters were obtained by the nonprofit group Knowledge Ecology International, which works on drug patent issues. They were also leaked to Colombian media outlets El Espectador and NoticiasUno.
In the second letter, after a meeting with Senate Finance Committee International Trade Counsel Everett Eissenstat, Flórez wrote that Eissenstat said that authorizing the generic version would “violate the intellectual property rights” of Novartis. Eissenstat also said that if “the Ministry of Health did not correct this situation, the pharmaceutical industry in the United States and related interest groups could become very vocal and interfere with other interests that Colombia could have in the United States,” according to the letter.
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