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Drugs in Thailand: The government should take care about ripping up patents
The Financial Times warns that Thailand's recent assault on drug patents sets a bad precedent that could undermine access to new medicines in the poorest countries.
At the end of November, the health ministry unveiled plans to issue a "compulsory licence" under World Trade Organisation rules against Merck of the US, allowing it to override the company's intellectual property protection on Stocrin, an HIV drug, and buy cheaper supplies from generic suppliers in India. This week, it threatened further compulsory licences against another two products, including Plavix, SanofiAventis's bestselling bloodthinning drug.
As poor countries grow in wealth, there is the natural temptation to undermine patents in order to subsidize health care services rather than allot more funding to health care budgets.
In the long run, the global assault on pharmaceutical profits and patents places an increasing strain on U.S. consumers, who pay the highest global prices and are therefore paying the lion's share of global pharmaceutical R&D. In a world of transparent pricing, this arrangement is ultimately untenable. When American consumers eventually revolt, Thailand and other poor nations will have fewer new drugs to reverseengineer, and everyone will be worse off.
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