B

ernie Sanders is the latest lawmaker to chastise United States Trade Representative Michael Froman for pressuring Colombia not to sidestep a patent on a Novartis drug.

In a letter sent Thursday, the presidential aspirant and Sherrod Brown, a Democratic Senator from Ohio, wrote that they find it “unconscionable” that Froman’s staff would attempt to “intimidate” Colombian officials for planning to issue a compulsory license for the Gleevec cancer medicine. And they warn that such actions suggest the US is “elevating corporate profits over public health priorities.”

Earlier this month, staff from both the US Senate Finance Committee and the US Trade Rep’s Office met with Colombian embassy officials in Washington D.C., and told them that issuing such a license might jeopardize $450 million in US funding for a peace effort, as well as backing for a free-trade treaty. The meetings were described in letters that embassy officials sent to Colombian government ministers.

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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. And Colombia Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria plans this step because it is in “the public interest,” since Novartis has refused to negotiate a lower price and won an exclusive patent on one of two forms of the drug, precluding competition.

But the meetings at the Colombian embassy have sparked protest from some Democratic lawmakers. Yesterday, 15 House Democrats fired off a letter to Froman to complain. And in their own missive, Sanders and Brown wrote that the warnings given to Colombian officials contradict the rights that countries have under a World Trade Agreement to issue compulsory licenses.

The lawmakers also noted that an existing trade agreement between the US and Colombia reiterates this right. “Attempts to dissuade Colombia … would be inconsistent with the goals of these agreements and would signal that the US is not committed to living up to the standards of our free-trade agreements when it does not suit corporate interests,” they wrote.

In one letter, a Colombian embassy official wrote that while Novartis is not an American company, the US pharmaceutical industry is “very worried” the Gleevec case may become a precedent. US Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, has close ties to the pharmaceutical industry, and the US Trade Rep had already placed Colombia on its list of countries that does a poor job of enforcing patent rights.

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As we noted previously, Gleevec is on the World Health Organization list of essential medicines. Colombia hopes to save about $12 million annually, and House Democrats say the medicine costs about twice as much as the average annual income per person in Colombia. Novartis has repeatedly said it is trying to negotiate a solution, but Gaviria has indicated he plans to issue a license shortly.

We asked the US Trade Rep’s office for comment and will update you accordingly.

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  • We love bernie and we know the crooked business in voter suppression and purging. We know the media, either hiding or condemning bernie desperately searching for handles the man can’t be leveraged that makes him dangerous to the gravy train. The media also chops his message and is hiding the meat. We know the superdelegate screw that is anything but democratic. But most importantly we expect this and worse. THE OWNERS OF THE US DON”T WAN MIDDLE MANAGEMENT TO DRIFT TOO FAR FROM THE NORMAL THEY WANT AND WE CAN’T STAND. I expect Bernie to go all the way and win or not win continue to support him in whatever role, including independent.

    I’m sure Hillary would be OK as a placeholder nothing more, but Bernie would start turning the ship away from the rocks. Bernie is the American dream, Not like Clintons or worse Bush with his Nazi money trust. Trump is in a real tv bubble world. I studied him closely and CLUELESS TRUMP, can’t take back all the idiotic statements he’s made. What I think offended me most was his groveling at AIPAC. The last thing we need is another bought politician. He’s made up issues and then been on both sides of the issue to the point there is nothing he says that I can believe it. Because he’s so clueless he will be rung in by the republican establishment. So if you don’t like their policies, forget it, regardless what trump stumbles through he will be no different. Another G.Bush or likely worse. Trump is all image and no substance.

    THAT’s WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT, EVEN IF THE CHANCE IS REMOTE, THAT HE STAY IN.

    Of course the e-mail liability may have some consequence. Republican Cronies are everywhere, surely the FBI. Why is this thing dragged out? What is the aim, pace and timing telling us? The fact it is being paced for November tells me that they are going to chop her then. How does someone campaign with an indictment. Bernie is saving the Democratic Party by staying in. But this liability isn’t going away. Remember the ‘Star Investigation’. This will be milked all through the general election. It’s the kiss of death even if like the Star Investigation it accomplishes nothing but wasting 30 million of taxpayers money on lawyer pork. This time around there is hard evidence. How many judges are Republican? Doesn’t look good? Why is Hillary in denial? She must know she will cost the DNC the election. BERNIE IS A SAFER BET AND HE WILL PULL ALL THE INDEPENDANTS FROM TRUMP – HILLARY AND HER AMBITIONS ARE IN THE WAY AND LIKELY GIVES TRUMP A FIGHTING CHANCE.

    • Practice a little on twitter, Mikeschwatz. ‘Brevity is the soil of wit’ and I missed your points on Gleevec, patents and drug pricing in the torrent of screed.

  • Big (and even Little) Pharma is literally a racket. They charge what they believe the market will bear, not what a drug is worth. They claim they need the money for research, but some drugs, like Viagra came essentially free as it was the result of a heart study. Viagra now costs $50/pill. OUTRAGEOUS!

    • Not to put too fine a point on it, there were costs to develop the unsuccessful (ok, ‘mediocre’) heart medication. And I would suspect there were additional trials but point taken. I have no knowledge of the pricing history per pill but I suspect they have been raising it a) due to competition and b) as the patent cliff looms.
      NOTE: They do also have to support unique and heavy IT costs. Remember, their spam blockers cannot automatically reject any e-mail that mentions Viagra. Some one could be reporting a side effect, after all.

    • I don’t understand why people complain how much a drug would cost but open their wallet on luxurious goods such as smartphones, sporting events, eating out or going to vacations? We look up to pro athletes and entertainers as role models perhaps we should encourage our children to become doctors and scientists who can actually save lives. I see no difference between big pharma to apple, google or all professional franchises in major cities at least they are making a product that can save lives, why should they be forced to sell the product at a lower cost? If medicine is somehow excluded should doctors/surgeons salary be on the chopping block as well?

  • While reading Socialist, I had a flashback. Complaints about the price of Gleevec started in the US in 2012 – if I may quote from the Citizens petition?
    “Novartis developed this drug in the 1990s. In the years since then the price of the drug has increased astronomically. Novartis must have paid their research costs long ago, but the price just keeps rising. Patients with CML leukemia are dependent on the drug to keep them alive. Our US representatives should work with FDA to pressure Novartis to reduce the cost .”
    URL: https://healthwatched.org/2012/05/09/us-patient-petition-calling-for-reduction-of-gleevec-price/
    NOTE: Apologies for the source since the vintage Pharmalot blogs are not available.

  • Sanders lets that patent be stolen — no one with a brain will ever spend five seconds, trying to do anything that big.

    That’s right, Sanders — you always want others to work for free — why don’t you? Why do you take your taxpayer-funded paycheck?

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