- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

The Bush administration is negotiating with Bayer Corp. to obtain greater supplies of anthrax-fighting antibiotics amid a near-panic about anthrax infections.
But its move to protect the home front could conflict with the administration's effort to preserve patent protection in looming international negotiations.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson yesterday demanded that Bayer, which holds the patent on the anthrax-fighting drug Cipro, drastically reduce its price below the $1.83 per tablet that it currently charges the government.
"I have given them my final offer, and they're in consultation. They're in shock," he said in a telephone briefing.
Campbell Gardett, a spokesman for Mr. Thompson, said the department is awaiting a response from Bayer.
The Bush administration wants to stockpile enough Cipro to treat 12 million people for 60 days. The government currently has enough for 2 million.
Mr. Thompson also told the House Government Reform Committee that he may ask Congress for a new law to ease production approvals for ciprofloxacin, Cipro's generic equivalent, since the drug's patent runs through 2003.
At the same time Mr. Thompson threatened Bayer with generic production, U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick was preparing for the Nov. 9-13 meeting of the World Trade Organization in the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar.
A major bone of contention at that meeting will be poorer countries' efforts to loosen patent protection for lifesaving pharmaceuticals, especially AIDS drugs. Mr. Thompson's threat to override Cipro's patent in the name of fighting anthrax appeared to contradict that stance.
But Mr. Zoellick insisted that "Secretary Thompson has taken the lead on this and we see no inconsistency between his actions and our international positions."
Already, Bayer narrowly avoided a move by the Canadian government to suspend its patent and order production of Cipro generics. But the company had to agree to a nearly 50 percent price discount.
The U.S. dilemma with Cipro highlights the problems other countries have faced for years.
Poor countries, especially in Africa, want the freedom to bend international trade rules on patents for anti-AIDS drugs, something the United States has opposed. With rising infection rates over the past decade, these countries have objected to the high costs of drugs needed to slow the progress of AIDS.
James Love, executive director of the Consumer Project on Technology, a group that advocates better access to pharmaceuticals, said the need to build up defenses against a further anthrax attack puts the Bush administration in a difficult dilemma.
"The United States needs Cipro, but if they go to other [generic] suppliers, they undercut the trade negotiation," Mr. Love said.
Mr. Gardett, the spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, countered that Mr. Thompson has not actually infringed on any patents, and added that the secretary has said he wants to avoid that step.
"He has only talked about it," Mr. Gardett said.
The United States and European countries want to preserve the integrity of the patents that create financial incentives for drug research, but have acknowledged a need to respond to the AIDS crisis.
As a result, Mr. Zoellick has to walk the fine line between finding an agreement at Qatar that poor countries can accept, while avoiding injury to the pharmaceutical industry, a major U.S. exporter.
Mr. Zoellick stressed that the Bush administration "moved promptly to support the use of the flexibility available under international intellectual-property rules to deal with health emergencies."
Additionally, the United States is now helping to draft a declaration for the Qatar meeting aimed at ensuring that trade rules do not harm public health.
"In past weeks, we have suggested additional ways to help sub-Saharan African countries deal with the HIV-AIDS crisis and other pandemics," Mr. Zoellick said.
But even that step has run afoul of pharmaceutical makers, who oppose any step that might lead to weaker patents.
Mark Grayson, a spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, said the group "doesn't see the need for a separate declaration on public health."


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