“No more delay – reject patent request for potential COVID-19 drug” urges Thai civil society

  • Japanese company Fujifilm-Toyama has filed for patents on favipiravir in Thailand.
  • Favipiravir is an antiviral drug which has been used to treat COVID-19 patients in Thailand and other countries, and the effectiveness is still being studied.
  • In 2010 and 2011 Fujifilm-Toyama filed three patents for the drug in Thailand.
  • Thai civil society insists that Thai authorities must reject the patent requests.
  • The patent request “contains nothing new and does not involve a more advanced invention method”.
  • If the rejection of these unmerited patents is further delayed, Thailand may lose the opportunity to produce its own version of the drug, which may prove useful in the treatment of COVID-19.

Story by The Opener, first published in Thai.

On 26 January 2021, a meeting was held to request that the Department of Intellectual Property (DIP) speeds up the rejection of the patent request for the antiviral drug favipiravir, which has been filed since 2010 by the pharmaceutical company Fujifilm-Toyama Chemicals.

In attendance were: Nimit Tienudom, director of the AIDS Access Foundation (an MMA partner); representatives from the Thai Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (TNP+); the Thai Drug Watch of Chulalongkorn University; and the FTA Watch. These civil society representatives were joined by: Vuttikrai Leewiraphan, the Director General of the Department of Intellectual Property (DIP); Deputy Director General of the Department; Director of the Patent Division; and Director of the Legal Division.

Civil society explained how there has never been a patent filed for the main structure of this drug in Thailand, while in other countries patents have been expired since 2019, resulting in China, for example, being able to produce the generic drug. Yet Fujifilm-Toyama has filed for a patent on favipiravir in Thailand, patent application number 11010001988. If the patent application is granted, the patent protection term will last until 2030.

The application refers to a tablet and granulated powder formula, which is simply a method to compress them into small tablets for easier consumption. The request contains no novelty or innovative steps, making it an example of evergreening.

Civil society urges the DIP to speed up its examination and reject the patent application. This will then allow for generic drug producers in Thailand to produce the medicine more affordably. Further delay by the DIP would mean that Thai people could lose this opportunity, and access to a drug that may have potential in treating COVID-19.

If the Thai patent office approves the patent of the Japanese company, this drug will be patented for 20 years and local manufactures won’t be allowed to produce and market the generic version.

At present, the Department of Disease Control is buying favipiravir at 125 baht (approx $4 USD) per pill from an Indian drug company, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, who has got a license to produce and market Favipiravir in Thailand from Fujiflim-Toyama.

A complete course for a COVID-19 patient consists of 50 pills, with some patients requiring two courses. It has been reported that the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) Research and Development institute can produce this drug for half the price. This would reduce the price of the course, from a total of 6,250 baht ($208), to less than 3,000 baht ($100).

The Director General of the DIP said that they will speed up the process with caution, and any rejection or approval will have clear explanations. He explained that he understands the concerns of the civil society sector but would also like to see if the GPO could negotiate with Fujifilm for permission for production.

‘Permission’ is not required

Asst. Prof. Dr. Yupadee Sirisinsuk, pharmacist, Deputy Manager of the Thai Drug Watch, emphasized that it is not necessary for Thailand to make a contract with Fujifilm, or ask permission, for co-production on this drug, since the patent application does not qualify to be patented according to Article 9 of the Patent Act. Sirisinsuk asked that the DIP speed up the examination for the benefit of Thai public health, which is currently starting to face an increase in the new wave of COVID-19 patients.

Previously, the Indian Patent Office rejected a patent application, enabling them to produce a generic version of favipiravir. With GPOs capacity, it could do the same. Civil society urges the DIP to follow India’s example: reject the patent request, and save the health budget.

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