For the first time, Brazil will ignore patent laws and manufacture a generic version of an HIV medication, citing the World Trade Organization’s “compulsory license” mechanism that allows a country to bypass a drug patent in a health emergency or if the manufacturer uses abusive pricing. The medication is Merck’s Sustiva, a powerful non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor, which Merck offered to sell Brazil at $1.10 per pill although it sells the same pill to Thailand for 65 cents. Sustiva sells for $1.29 to $15.44 per pill in the U.S., depending on the dosage.
Brazil currently provides free HIV medications to over 180,000 citizens. Merck issued a statement: “As the world’s 12th largest economy, Brazil has a greater capacity to pay for HIV medicines than countries that are poorer or harder hit by the disease.” Merck’s patent on Sustiva doesn’t expire until 2012. Bootlegging Sustiva now will save Brazil $240 million before then, while they will still pay Merck a small royalty.