September 3, 2008 / 8:26 PM / 11 years ago

Brazil rejects Gilead's AIDS drug patent

RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Brazil has rejected a patent request for an AIDS drug made by U.S. firm Gilead (GILD.O), opening the way for cheaper, generic versions to be used in the country’s fight against the disease.

A health ministry spokesman said on Wednesday the patent request for the drug Tenofovir had been rejected, confirming a statement from the patent office announcing the decision on grounds that it lacked technological inventiveness.

The ministry said in April the drug, used by 31,300 patients in Brazil as part of the country’s free treatment program, was “in the public interest.” That was seen as an indication the patent request would be rejected.

Brazil may now import generic versions of the drug under a clause in World Trade Organization rules to sidestep drug patents in the name of public health.

No one at Gilead was immediately available for comment.

The medical group Doctors Without Borders said the decision could boost access to HIV/AIDS medicine in Brazil and throughout the developing world.

“Securing wider access to TDF (Tenofovir) is absolutely crucial,” Tido von Schoen-Angerer of the group’s Access Campaign, said in a statement.

“In the past, Brazil’s production of ARV (antiretroviral) drugs has helped to bring down prices of ARVs globally. We hope this will happen again.”

The group said an Indian-made generic version of Tenofovir approved by the World Health Organization cost $158 per person per year, compared to $1,387 charged by Gilead in Brazil.

After climbing in the 1990s, Brazil’s HIV infection rate has steadied at around 0.5 percent and the number of new cases and deaths have been declining. Experts attribute the success to the government’s promotion of condoms, free treatment, and the use of generic drugs.

In 2007, Brazil sidestepped a patent on Merck & Co Inc’s (MRK.N) AIDs drug Efavirenz to import a cheaper generic drug from India. (Reporting by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Todd Benson and Alan Elsner)

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