BANGKOK Feb 26 Thailand's chief negotiator
with major drug firms that are battling Bangkok's override of
their international patents has been removed from his post,
Health Minister Chaiya Sasomsap said on Tuesday.
Siriwat Thiptharadon, head of the Food and Drug
Administration and an architect of the previous government's
compulsory licence (CL) policy, was moved to an inactive post.
"It's not about the CL issue, it's about appropriateness,"
Chaiya told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting, a remark
he did not explain.
Chatree Banchuen, a senior Health Ministry official, was
appointed head of the FDA and lead negotiator on drug prices.
Starting in late 2006, former Health Minister Mongkol na
Songkhla overrode patents on two HIV-AIDS drugs, a heart
medicine and four cancer drugs, arguing that they were too
expensive for a national health plan covering about 80 percent
of Thailand's 63 million people.
Chaiya, a member of the new government which took power
last month, has questioned the legality of the moves on the
cancer drugs and said the government could afford their $24-$27
million annual cost.
Drug firms and their allies have accused Bangkok of
stealing intellectual property. The United States put Thailand
on its "priority watch list", citing weaker respect for
Washington has not threatened trade sanctions, but Chaiya
has said Thai Commerce Ministry officials fear a further
downgrade could put Thailand at risk of American trade
Mongkol insisted he followed Thai laws and World Trade
Organisation rules, which allow countries to override a drug
patent if it is deemed critical to public health as long as the
medicines are meant for domestic use.
(Reporting by Bangkok bureau; Editing by Darren Schuettler)