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A group of 15 House Democrats wants United States Trade Representative Michael Froman to explain why his office appeared to pressure Colombia not to sidestep a patent on a Novartis cancer drug. The move is the latest twist in the escalating battle between the global pharmaceutical industry and some governments over intellectual property rights and access to affordable medicines.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Froman, the lawmakers expressed “serious concern” that his staff “may have discouraged” Colombian officials from issuing a compulsory license for the Gleevec medicine. In response to concerns about public health, a country can issue a license so that a generic company can make a brand-name medicine without the consent of the company holding a patent.


The right to issue these licenses was memorialized in a World Trade Agreement, and less than a month ago, Colombia Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria decided to pursue such a license. His move came after a four-year battle in which Novartis had refused to negotiate a lower price and won an exclusive patent on one of two forms of the drug, precluding competition.

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