Blind World

US rejects cheaper copies of Pfizer eye drug.

September 24, 2004.

The U.S. government declined on Thursday to allow a nonprofit company to sell cheaper, generic versions of a blockbuster Pfizer Inc. drug for treating glaucoma.

Washington-based Essential Inventions had asked for permission to sell copies of the drug, Xalatan, before its patent expires. The company, founded by consumer activists, said Xalatan was developed with support from taxpayer funds and was being sold at an unfairly high price in the United States.

The drug's U.S. price generally is two to five times higher than in Canada and Europe, Essential Inventions said.

The National Institutes of Health's Office of Technology Transfer said it did not believe issuing a license for generic versions of Xalatan was warranted.

The activists had asked the NIH to invoke a 1980 law, the Bayh-Dole Act, to "march-in" and grant licenses to others to produce Xalatan. The law requires government-funded inventions be made available "on reasonable terms."

"The NIH believes that the extraordinary remedy of march-in is not an appropriate means of controlling prices," the agency said in a statement announcing its decision to reject the request on Xalatan.

Officials at Pfizer could not immediately be reached for comment.

Xalatan is the world's best-selling treatment for glaucoma, which can cause blindness. Sales in 2003 topped $1 billion.

In August, the NIH rejected a similar request for licenses to sell cheaper copies of Abbott Laboratories Inc.'s AIDS drug Norvir.

Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited.

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