The Brazilian government recently declared the drug Tenofovir, used against HIV/AIDS, to be of public interest. The announcement signals the country's interest in using an option to avoid the patent on the drug and beginning the process of issuing a compulsory license for the antiretroviral which is produced by the Gilead Science biopharmaceutical company.
A clause in World Trade Organization rules, to which Brazil is a signatory, allows nations to flout drug patents in the name of public health. Other countries, including Canada, Italy and Thailand, have also taken this route to gain access to cheaper AIDS drugs.
The World Health Organization considers Brazil's AIDS strategy - which also includes large-scale distribution of free condoms as well as free and fast testing for the HIV virus - a model for developing nations.
The country's AIDS infection rate, after climbing until the early 1990s, has steadied and even reversed course. The prevalence of the HIV virus dropped to 0.5 per cent in 2006 from 0.6 percent in 2005, its first fall in seven years. The numbers of new AIDS cases and AIDS deaths have also been declining. Brazil has an estimated 600,000 people infected with HIV/AIDS.
The Brazilian health ministry said that Tenofovir accounts for 10 per cent of the money the government spends on its AIDS treatment program, which encompasses a cocktail of various drugs, including Tenofovir in some cases. It said that this year, 31,300 Brazilians would be treated with Tenofovir at a cost of $1,387 per patient. The annual cost per patient, for some 180,000 people treated under Brazil's AIDS program, is about $2,500 worth of medicines a year.
Ironically, India's pharmaceutical industry may be one of the beneficiaries of this decision. It produces a generic version of Tenofovir and this treatment cost $170 per patient per year. If Brazil imported from India, the yearly savings could be more than $30 million.
Gilead Sciences is a California-based biopharmaceutical company that discovers, develops and commercializes therapeutics to advance the care of patients suffering from life-threatening diseases. The company has eleven commercially available products and operations in America, Europe and Australia, where it employs over 2000 people. It had annual revenue in excess of $3 billion in 2006.
The company's name and logo refer to the Balm of Gilead. Gilead (a place mentioned in the Bible) was famed for its small trees that produced a resin used in medicine. The leaf in the logo symbolizes healing, life and growth, while the shield represents safety, strength and honour.
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