Fighting for access to better TB drugs in Thailand

Thailand is classified by the World Health Organisation as a tuberculosis (TB) /HIV high-burden country, including MDR-TB. It is estimated to have around 3,000 patients with multidrug-resistant-TB.

Bangkok, Thailand, 2019. © Gemma Taylor/Make Medicines Affordable

AIDS Access Foundation (AAF), MMA’s partner in Thailand, has been working to improve access to TB treatment. On 12 January 2022, AAF submitted a letter to Thailand’s Department of Intellectual Property (DIP), requesting the rejection of the patent application for Telacebec, a promising tuberculosis (TB) treatment in Phase II.

The patent request was filed by Pasteur Korea Institute, in South Korea, on 18 March 2021. AAF assessed the application and filed a third-party observation to the DIP, providing them with information to assist their decision on the patent application. According to the organisation, the patent is unmerited as it fails to meet Thai patent legislation requirements, on the that grounds the formulation techniques are not new and that there is no ‘inventive step’.

This is not the first interaction between CSOs and public institutions to improve Thailand’s access to optimal, affordable TB treatment. In 2021, AAF filed four third-party observations to oppose patent applications on bedaquiline (BDQ), a WHO-recommended MDR-TB drug which is also under study for drug-susceptible TB.

On 2 February 2021, a civil society network, comprising of AAF and the Thai Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (TNP+), filed a lawsuit at the Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, against Thailand’s DIP, Ministry of Commerce and the Director General, with the desired outcome of  a court order to the DIP,  which would legally order it to reject Janssen Pharmaceutica N.V’s patent application on BDQ. In addition, AAF opposed the attempt to patent the pediatric version of BDQ, also under the grounds of no “inventive step”, as it was only a soluble version of the drug  – which is still an on-going clinical trial.

“We are still far from having proper access to optimal TB treatment for everyone who needs it. In the meantime, we found alternatives. As the BDQ patent application is under examination, organisations found other ways to advocate for access. TNP+, for example, was successful in making sure national health insurance included BDQ in their coverage in 2021.” says Chalermsak Kittitrakul, from AAF.

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