Thailand in talks on cheaper AIDS drugs

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kaletraThailand said it has opened talks with US drugmaker Abbott Laboratories on lowering the price of an AIDS treatment, which could avoid the need for a generic version Bangkok approved last week.

Thailand has already issued a so-called "compulsory license" for the anti-AIDS drug Kaletra, which effectively breaks the drug's patent and clears the way for the kingdom to either produce or import cheaper generic versions.

Hoping to prevent Thailand from turning to generics, Abbott has agreed to work with the kingdom to find ways of reducing the cost of treatment, the health ministry said.

"Abbott has agreed in principle with the Thai government to make Kaletra more affordable for all Thais," said Suvit Wibulpolprasert, the ministry's senior advisor on health economics.

"They have not yet agreed to cut the price, but we are in negotiations over that," Suvit told AFP.

AIDS activists say that generic versions of Kaletra would cut the cost of treatment to 4,000 baht (114 dollars) per month from the current 11,580 baht (331 dollars).

Thailand's universal HIV/AIDS treatment programme has been hailed as a success in the fight against the disease.

In 2002, the Thai government launched a generic version of an HIV/AIDS triple therapy and was able to cut the cost of treatment 18-fold.

Thailand's treatment program has been widely credited with slashing the number of AIDS deaths by about 75 percent last year and the number of new annual HIV infections continues to drop.

In November, Thailand decided to allow generic versions of pharmaceutical giant Merck's high-priced HIV/AIDS drug Efavirenz.

Merck already agreed to cut the price of Efavirenz from 1,300 baht to 880 baht, as Thailand is starting to import the drug from India at the price of 650 baht, Suvit said.

Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse