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Thailand Considers Discounted AIDS Drugs

Thai health officials said Tuesday that the government would consider an offer by U.S. drug maker Abbott Laboratories to supply Thailand and other countries with its AIDS-fighting drugs at a discounted price.

Abbott earlier Tuesday announced that after consulting with the U.N.'s World Health Organization, it had decided to offer its drug Kaletra, also known as lopinavir, and Aluvia, also known as ritonavir, at a reduced price in the developing world.

"The company today offered to lower its price for its AIDS drug Kaletra from 5,938 baht (US$181; euro135) per patient per month to 3,488.20 baht (US$107; euro79) per patient per month which could end up being cheaper than its generic version," Dr. Siriwat Tiptaradol, secretary-general of Thailand's Food and Drug Administration, was quoted saying in a news release from his agency.

The offer appeared to be a breakthrough in ending a dispute between Thailand and Abbott over the high price of Kaletra.

Thailand earlier this year announced it was breaking the patent on Kaletra so it could provide cheaper generic versions of the drug to those in need.

Abbott responded by declaring it would not introduce any new drugs in Thailand because it failed to honor its intellectual property rights.

Thailand's position drew much criticism from the local and foreign business community, while Abbott's action drew a firestorm of protest from health activists.

Siriwat said that Illinois-based Abbott's stance is that it wants to see a balance between the honoring of patents and public access to its medicine.

Siriwat added that the FDA will forward the offer to the Public Health Ministry for further deliberation.

The ministry in January issued so-called "compulsory licenses" allowing the use of much cheaper generic versions of Kaletra, as well as the blood thinner Plavix, marketed by France's Sanofi-Aventis SA and U.S. drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

According to World Trade Organization agreements on intellectual property, a government may issue a compulsory license in case of a national public health emergency. Such action has been taken by several countries, most notably Brazil and India, especially for AIDS medicines.

A news release from Abbott said the company will offer its AIDS drugs to NGOs and governments of more than 40 low and low-middle income countries at a price of US$1,000 (euro745) per patient per year.

"This price is lower than any generic price available in the world today for this medicine and is approximately 55 percent less than the average current price for these countries," it said, adding that Thailand is one of the countries being offered the discount.

"Abbott did not say that they wanted us to revoke the compulsory license. There was no condition. They were just here to offer the price reduction so that people can have access to their medicines," Dr. Suchart Chongprasert, another Thai FDA official, told The Associated Press.

"We want to thank the company for their understanding of our position and the offer that they made which will benefit Thai patients," he said.

Abbott's statement said the company was acting "to further increase access and address the debate around pricing of HIV medicines: by increasing affordability while preserving the system that enables the discovery of new medicines."