by Justin Gardner
May 21, 2016

from TheFreeThoughtProject Website
Related report in Spanish





In a display of just how far the U.S. government is willing to go in protecting Big Pharma, it was revealed that a Senate staffer hinted that peace deals in Colombia could be threatened if the country challenges a patent on an expensive cancer drug.


The controversy centers around a leukemia drug called Gleevec, made by Swiss-based Novartis. Prices have increased 10 percent or more every year, causing heavy strain on health care systems in middle-income countries such as Colombia.


Novartis, which made $4.7 billion from Gleevec last year, has enjoyed a patent monopoly on the drug for ten years. The patent ended on February 1 in the U.S., but will remain in Colombia until 2018.


While a generic version of the life-saving drug already promises to bring prices down in the U.S., Colombia is held hostage by the continuing foreign-based monopoly.


The Colombian government announced that it will give Novartis a few weeks to lower the price on Gleevec before it uses "compulsory licenses" to let companies make generic versions.


It proposed a price reduction of less than half the current regulated price, which is still much higher than what generic versions cost.


Novartis refused, instead turning to its 'friends' in the U.S. government.

"Leaked diplomatic letters sent from Colombia's Embassy in Washington describe how a staffer with the Senate Finance Committee, which is led by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, warned of repercussions if Colombia moves forward on approving the cheaper, generic form of a cancer drug…


In the second letter, after a meeting with Senate Finance Committee International Trade Counsel Everett Eissenstat, [Andres] Flórez wrote that Eissenstat said that authorizing the generic version would "violate the intellectual property rights" of Novartis.


Eissenstat also said that if,

"the Ministry of Health did not correct this situation, the pharmaceutical industry in the United States and related interest groups could become very vocal and interfere with other interests that Colombia could have in the United States," according to the letter.

In particular, Flórez expressed a worry that "this case could jeopardize the approval of the financing of the new initiative ‘Peace Colombia'."

The initiative could end decades of bloody fighting and aid in efforts to remove land mines in Colombia, which is second only to Afghanistan in land mine fatalities.


U.S. lawmakers have no problem breaking patents when it serves their interest, such as the compulsory licensing granted for night vision goggles, most likely to benefit the surveillance state. But when it's a matter of life and death in other countries struggling with health care costs, these politicians will show their allegiance to the corporatocracy.


As the leaked memos show, American politicians would even abandon the cause of making peace.

Translation of the letter into English by Anne-Beatrix Keller-Semadeni:

Embassy of Colombia in the United States


In Washington, D.C., on April 28, 2016

Dr. Alejandro Gaviria
Minister of Health
Bogotá D.C.


Dear Minister,

As announced in the letter I-EUSWHT-16-868 that we sent yesterday, April 27, staff members of the Embassy and of the Commercial Office and myself met with Everett Eissenstat, member of the Senate Finance Committee to discuss the possible declaration of public interest regarding the issuance of a compulsory licence on the drug GLIVEC manufactured by the pharmaceutical company NOVARTIS. It is worth mentioning that Mr. Eissenstat is the Chief International Trade Counsel for the republican side of the Finance Committee.

Mr. Eissenstat commented on the discomforts that the announcement by the Ministry of Health of a possible compulsory licence on the drug GLIVEC had caused in the United States. Mr. Eissenstat believes that there are not enough reasons to justify the legality of a compulsory licence for GLIVEC. Therefore, he thinks that if that happened, Colombia would violate the intellectual property rights of the company NOVARTIS, as well as, among other treaties, the free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States.

Moreover, Mr. Eissenstat mentioned that although NOVARTIS is not an American company, the US pharmaceutical industry is very worried by the fact that such a case might become a precedent that could be applied for any patent in any industry. This, according to him, could tarnish Colombia’s reputation regarding the respect of intellectual property rights and place Colombia among the countries that would receive a special treatment.

Mr. Eissenstat also mentioned that if the Ministry of Health did not correct this situation, the pharmaceutical industry in the United States and related interest groups could become very vocal and interfere with other interests that Colombia could have in the United States.

As mentioned in our letter of yesterday, we are concerned that this case could jeopardize the approval of the financing of the new initiative “Paz Colombia”. We also worry of the potential of a dispute with the parties affected in light of the provisions of the free trade agreement.

We are waiting for decisions and instructions in this case.

Yours faithfully,

Andrés Flórez
Deputy Chief of Mission


Naturally, a spokesperson for Sen. Orrin Hatch feigned ignorance, pretending that they can't possibly have any influence over the Peace Colombia initiative.


According to Julia Lawless, the Senate Finance Committee,

"has no jurisdiction over the Paz Colombia initiative and it was not discussed."

The suggestion that Hatch and his cohorts would not do the bidding of Novartis is absurd, considering the ties to Big Pharma as reported by the Intercept.

"Hatch has close ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceutical and health product manufacturers form the second-largest pool of donors to his campaigns.


The industry's main trade association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, spent $750,000 funding an outside nonprofit that backed Hatch's re-election in 2012.


The lobbying group also employed Scott Hatch, one of the senator's sons, as a lobbyist, while donating to his family charity, the Utah Families Foundation."

According to Public Citizen, about a dozen countries have used compulsory licenses, mostly for HIV and cancer treatments.


Novartis and its allies in Congress are worried that Colombia might set a precedent for others to challenge patent monopolies.

"The pressure against Colombia is bogus but it's real," said Andrew Goldman, a counsel for Knowledge Ecology International, the Washington-based group that first obtained the embassy memos.


"We always assume that this kind of intervention is happening behind the scenes but rarely do you get the chance to see it up close."

While everyone has a right to profit from their original product, using the power of the state to preserve a monopoly allows corporations to act outside of market forces and charge extraordinary prices, with poorer regions suffering the most.


This collusion also lends to the broken system of politics that characterizes Washington, where the thirst for money and power has rendered voting meaningless...