US bids to block Indian cancer drug sale in Colombia

New Delhi : Leaked diplomatic letters reveal that a staffer with US Senate Finance Committee, led by Sen Orrin Hatch, had warned of “repercussions” if Colombia approves a cheaper form of generic cancer drug manufactured in India. The drug the senator is pushing for is imatinib, manufactured by Novartis and sold in the world market under the brand name Glivec. Included in the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines, it is used to treat leukaemia (blood cancer) and gastrointestinal cancers.
It is a very expensive drug and cost more than $15,000 per annum. A generic version of the drug being produced in India by Cipla and other generic drug manufacturers cost a fraction of Novartis’ price.
Novartis has, it may be recalled, been refused a patient for its drug by the Supreme Court of India, giving a fillip to the production of life-saving generics. In April, Colombian Minister of Health Alejandro Gaviria announced that the country will allow the sale of generics produced by Indian companies, and eventually the setting up of manufacturing facilities in Colombia. According to letters leaked to Colombian media by Knowledge Ecology International, a non-profit group, the Colombian Embassy in Washington wrote to Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs detailing concerns about possible congressional retaliation against allowing the sale and production of the drug in the country.
The communication said that Senate Finance Committee International Trade Counsel Everett Eissenstat had written to the Colombian embassy warning against the authorizing of the generic version as it “violate the intellectual property rights” of Novartis. The official threatened 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”. The US official had specifically underlined that “this case could jeopardize the approval of the financing of the new initiative ‘Peace Colombia. The Obama administration has, it may be pointed out, has pledged $450 million for Peace Colombia, which seeks to bring together rebels and the government to end decades of fighting that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and a shattered civil society. These funds will be used for, among other things, removing landmines.
The country has the second-highest number of landmine fatalities in the world, behind only Afghanistan.

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