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Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 03:44 GMT 04:44 UK
Brazil to break Aids patent
Protest in Pretoria, South Africa
Demand for cheaper Aids drugs has sparked protests around the world
Brazil may become the first country in the world to break a patent on a drug used to treat Aids, the government said.


We aren't going to wait anymore, we are starting production

Health Minister Jose Serra
Health Minister Jose Serra has asked the public health laboratory to produce a generic version of Nelfinavir, a drug patented by Swiss firm Roche, in order to bring its cost down by 40%.

In June, the United States dropped its attempt to have Brazil disciplined by the World Trade Organisation over laws permitting the production of generic drugs in a national emergency.

Brazil is thought to have the highest number of people with Aids in Latin America - about 200,000 - and 25% of Aids patients there use Nelfinavir.

A quarter of Brazil's Aids programme budget - which totals $300m annually - is spent on Nelfinavir alone.

Huge savings

By making the drug at the state Far-Manguinhos laboratory, the country's health services will save 88m reals ($34.8m) a year, the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo reported.

Earlier this year, the government rejected Roche's offer to cut the price of Nelfinavir by 13% as "insufficient".

"The government isn't against patents, it's against the abuse of prices", said Mr Serra as he announced his decision.

Mr Serra added that Roche could still make an offer "to meet our needs, but we aren't going to wait anymore. We are starting production".

A news release from the Swiss firm expressed surprise at the move.

"Roche already conceded discounts close to those that the ministry is requesting and has donated medication for the treatment of children with Aids," it said.

Praise

The charity Medicins Sans Frontieres says the Brazilian Government's programme has offered free treatment to more than 90,000 patients.

The programme would be threatened if Brazil had to pay higher prices for imported drugs, the charity says.

The public health lab expects to be producing generic Nelfinavir by February 2002.

The US filed its complaint with the World Trade Organisation in February over a Brazilian law that permits a local company to manufacture a product made by a foreign company, if that company fails to initiate production inside Brazil within three years

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Fiona Werge
"The government will ignore the patent and make the drug in Brazil"
The BBC's Jan Rocha in Sao Paulo
"Nelfinavir is a vital ingredient in the drugs cocktail supplied to thousands of people"
Phillip Bloomer, Oxfam
"Brazil have halved the death rate of it's Aids sufferers"
See also:

25 Jun 01 | Business
US drops Brazil Aids drugs case
24 Apr 01 | Americas
Brazil wins Aids drugs vote
07 Nov 00 | Americas
Latin America 'faces Aids epidemic'
03 Feb 01 | Americas
Brazil in US Aids drugs row
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