Thai civil society opposes patent on an influenza drug, now used for COVID-19

  • Favipiravir, originally approved as an influenza drug, is being used to treat COVID-19 patients with pneumonia, alongside anti-malarial and anti-retroviral medicines.
  • During March and April 2020, Thailand imported over 150,000 tablets from Japan and China, brand name ‘Avigan’, priced at $4 (USD) per pill.
  • The typical cost is $28-32 per person per day. The fair price has been estimated to be significantly less, at $1.45 per day.
  • AIDS Access Foundation (AAF), our campaign partner in Thailand, has filed a third-party observation opposing FujiFilm Toyama Chemical’s application, which AAF deems to be unmerited.

FujiFilm Toyama Chemical has filed for patents on favipiravir in numerous countries, including three in Thailand. If approved, this would continue to block generic competition until after 2031, as under Thai law, a patent’s duration is 20 years from the date the patent application was filed.

Current treatment guidelines in Thailand for people with COVID-19 and pneumonia is to prescribe favipiravir for 5-10 days, requiring a total of 40-70 tablets. The price, for FujiFilm Toyama’s branded medicine, equates to between $28-32 per person per day.

A research team at the University of Liverpool, UK, estimated costs for generic production to be $1.45 per day. This was calculated using an established methodology, which includes the costs of the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), production, distribution costs, as well as profit and tax. 

On 17 July 2020, AIDS Access Foundation filed a third-party observation to oppose patent application number 1101001988, filed by FujiFilm in Thailand. Our partner organization assessed the application and deemed it be unmerited on the that grounds the formulation techniques are not new and there is no ‘inventive step’. AAF is now reviewing FujiFilm’s other two applications.

If the patent office rejects the patents the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO), a state enterprise and a key local manufacturer in Thailand, would be able to produce and supply generic favipiravir at a significantly lower cost. GPO has already started the process of manufacturing generic favipiravir which it expects to be able to produce at a large scale by 2022.