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Sarah Lazare – How Big Pharma Is Arm-Twisting U.S. Foreign Policy to Keep Cancer Drugs Prohibitively Expensive

The administration of President Barack Obama has so far refused to publicly respond to new revelations that U.S. officials, at the behest of Big Pharma, may have attempted to obstruct the Colombian government’s efforts to lower the price of a life-saving cancer medication. Amid this silence, civil society organizations [3], along with some lawmakers from the House [4] and Senate [5], are demanding answers.

At issue is the drug imatinib, which is produced by Novartis under the brand name Glivec and is used to treat certain cancers of the blood, including leukemia. Imatinib islisted [6] as an essential medicine by the World Health Organization, yet it can be prohibitively expensive, at an annual cost [7] of $15,161 in Colombia—nearly double [8] the country’s gross national income per capita.

Beginning in April, the Colombian government began a long process of considering compulsory licensing provisions that could reduce the price of the medication by more than half. As the watchdog organization Public Citizen explains [9], compulsory licensing is a “special mechanism that authorizes a government to introduce generic competition for a patented product in exchange for royalty payments to the patent holder.” Numerous countries have used such provisions to expand access to vital medicines, like HIV and cancer treatments.

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