Colombia’s embassy in the United States is concerned that efforts to lower the price of a life-saving cancer drug threatens Washington DC’s promised funds for peace in Colombia, according to a leaked memo published by the Huffington Post.
The embassy’s business attache in Washington DC sent the memo to Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, also a member of the negotiation team seeking a peace deal with the FARC, the country’s oldest and largest rebel group that is currently in talks to end more than half a century of violence.
The warning came in April, days after Colombia’s health minister said he may issue a decree that would allow a generic company to make a lower-cost version of the Gleevec leukemia treatment and save the South American country $12 million annually.
According to business attache Andres Florez, ambassador Juan Carlos Pinzon has already been called in for a meeting with the US Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman over the latter’s “mayor concerns ” over the plans.
Additionally, industry representatives and lobbyists have already pressured Colombia to maintain Novartis’ price.
“Given the direct relationship between a significant group of congressmen and the US’ pharmaceutical industry, the Glivec case has the potential to escalate to the point it becomes an inconvenience for the approval of funds for the newly denominated “Peace Colombia” initiative, as well as a dispute within the terms of the FTA [free trade agreement].”
Colombia’s business attache to Washington DC, Andres Florez
“Over the past few weeks a number of American pharmaceutical companies and interest groups have contacted this embassy and the Commercial Office to express their concern about regulatory issues that, according to this industry, affects their interests in Colombia,” wrote Florez.
The pharmaceutical industry’s pressure on US Congress to protect its interests and maintain Novartis’ price of Glivec made the Swiss company’s private interests “an issue of interest of the USTR and US Congress,” Colombia’s business representative in the US said.
Given the apparent threat that Colombia’s efforts to make the cancer drug cheaper could affect Washington’s promised funds to the pending peace process, according to the official.
Additionally, “we believe the National Government should evaluate the aforementioned actions and respond to the mentioned concerns at its best convenience. At the same time — and if necessary — we consider adopting corrective measures to avoid lawsuits against the country,” Florez wrote the foreign minister.
According to pharmaceutical website Stat, “the squabble over a license is only the latest example of the heated clash between the global pharmaceutical industry and some governments over intellectual property rights and access to affordable medicines. Drug makers say patent rights are sometimes trampled on, while consumer groups argue such licenses are needed and, moreover, are memorialized in a World Trade Agreement.”