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Bangkok's Drug War Goes Global
Wall Street Journal, 3-7-07

The Journal warns that Thailand's recent move to seize drug patents is part of a larger assault on intellectual property that will chill the development of new medicines and hurt global health.

Thailand's seizures of foreign drug patents earlier this year elicited cheers from the usual crowd of anti-patent hooligans. That's not serious, per se. But by letting Bangkok's actions go unchallenged—and in some official quarters, by supporting them—a dangerous precedent now risks being set.

If you don't believe us, consider the proposals recently floated at the World Health Organization. In its January executive board meeting, Thailand's representative, Dr. Suwit Wibulpolprasert, declared that if an influenza pandemic hit, he'd counsel Bangkok to hold Western tourists hostage until those countries gave Thailand the necessary vaccines. The Kenyan delegation said it would present a proposal to its health ministry to seize Novartis's patent on Coartem, a malaria drug. And Bolivia chipped in that member states have to "put people over profit."

This kind of rhetoric is dangerous. Drug companies spend billions of dollars to develop, test and deliver drugs, as well as educate physicians on how to use them.

There's no reason for Big Pharma to sink money into an expensive enterprise unless it is duly rewarded for it. That's why no serious government has contemplated using compulsory licensing, even if it's allowed to do so under WTO rules. Thailand and NGOs cite, among other countries, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Cameroon as anti-patent precedents—- hardly the world's economic role models.

Project FDA.
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