Abbott Won't Launch New Drugs
In Thailand After Patent Revocation
By NICHOLAS ZAMISKA
Abbott Laboratories has decided against launching any new medicines in Thailand in response to the military-installed government's decision to revoke the company's patent for its blockbuster AIDS drug, according to people familiar with the matter.
The U.S. drug maker has also withdrawn its current drug applications from the government review process, these people said, adding that Abbott has no plans to stop selling drugs that are currently on the market.
Abbott's move, which could leave patients in Thailand with fewer options for treatment of certain conditions, raises the stakes in a battle between multinational pharmaceutical companies and the Thai government that took power following a military coup last year.
In January, the government said it would suspend patent protections for two drugs to make them more widely available to patients who need them. These included the HIV treatment Kaletra, made by Abbott, of Abbott Park, Ill., and Plavix, a blood-thinning drug originally developed by Sanofi-Aventis SA of Paris and co-marketed in several countries by New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.
In certain situations, including national emergencies, World Trade Organization rules allow a government to unilaterally make or sell patented drugs without the permission of the drug companies. However, pharmaceutical companies have criticized Thailand for stretching the scope of those rules beyond widely accepted boundaries.
Abbott has withdrawn its application for seven medicines, according to a person familiar with the matter, including a new formulation of Kaletra, the AIDS treatment. Abbott notified the Thai government a few weeks ago, after talks between the two sides broke down, the person familiar with the matter said.
A decision that may keep critical, life-saving drugs away of patients who need them could prove controversial for Abbott. "It's not good for anyone, even the American company because they will lose the market," says Thawat Suntrajarn, director general of the Ministry of Health's department of disease control, who says that he was unaware of Abbott's decision.