Colombia cuts price of Novartis cancer drug by 44 percent

A Novartis logo is pictured on its headquarters building in Mumbai April 1, 2013. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash/File Photo

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s government has lowered the price of Novartis cancer drug imatinib by nearly half in a bid to cut healthcare costs after failed price negotiations with the Swiss company.

Novartis will be legally obliged to sell the drug, which is used to treat leukemia and other cancers, at the new price.

The new cost per milligram is 44 percent less than the original price, the Colombian Health Ministry said in a statement late on Tuesday.

Under the decision each 400 milligram tablet of the medication will cost 82,568 pesos ($27.6), down from 147,200 pesos ($49).

The pharmaceutical company and the Andean nation attempted to set a new price together after Colombia, where about 2,500 patients currently use imatinib, asked Novartis to lower the cost. Negotiations failed and the government said its medication cost commission would set a new price.

The drug, sold under brand names Glivec or Gleevec, was not under patent in Colombia between 2003 and 2012, sparking competition from generic producers whose prices are 197 percent cheaper than those of Novartis, according to the health ministry. The current patent is valid until mid-2018.

The government’s decision to unilaterally set a new price stopped short of a so-called compulsory license declaration, which would have overridden Novartis’ patent and permitted other companies to make cheaper generic versions.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Bill Trott