Colombian Dispute with Novartis Could Cause Problem with U.S.

Officials in Colombia have become concerned that their dispute with Novartis the Swiss drug maker over the price and patent of a groundbreaking new cancer treatment might escalate and could threaten funding from the United States for its pending peace plan that could end over 50 years of war in the country.

This information was received through leaked letters that were written in a Colombian Embassy.

Last month in a letter to the health minister of Colombia, an official in the Colombian Embassy located in Washington, D.C., said that a staffer with the Senate Finance Committee warned him that the plan of overriding the patent for Gleevec, the biggest earning cancer treatment for Novartis in 2015, could cause damage to the reputation of Colombia in the U.S. and interfere with relations between the U.S. and Colombia.

U.S. President Barack Obama made a commitment of $450 million to help with the implementation of Colombia’s peace deal between its government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known as FARC a leftist guerrilla organization.

A committee spokesperson said the funding for the Colombia piece deal was not talked about in a meeting between the committee staffer and Andres Florez.

The Health Minister of Colombia Alejandro Gaviria said during an interview this week that he was giving a few weeks to Novartis to lower its price on Gleevec the leukemia treatment prior to allowing it to be manufactured by businesses other than Novartis.

That move, known as compulsory licensing, breaks monopolies of foreign pharmaceutical companies and allows the local competitors to sell less expensive generic versions in Colombia.

In a leaked letter, Florez the second ranking Colombia official in the Embassy wrote that the staffer with the U.S. Senate told him even though Novartis was not a company in the U.S., the U.S. pharmaceutical industry had become worried that the case might become precedent setting.

In another letter, to the foreign minister of Colombia, Florez wrote that the trade representative from the U.S. requested to have a meeting to discuss the patent of the Colombian government.

A trade representative spokesperson said the requested meeting had taken place, after the release of the annual report that did not mention the patent issue in the Colombia section. The meeting discussed a number of issues over intellectual property.

Committee counsel for international trade said that the Senate Finance Committee held no jurisdiction over Colombia’s Paz Colombia plan and that was not discussed at the Florez meeting with the staff member.