U.S. seeks deal on purchase of Cipro

Administration is ready to ask for patent waiver

War On Terrorism

Anthrax Scare

October 24, 2001|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is prepared to ask Congress for authority to waive the patent on Cipro, one of the antibiotics that treats anthrax, if the drug's manufacturer, Bayer AG, does not lower its price to under $1 a pill, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said yesterday.

"I can assure you we're not going to pay the price that they asked," Thompson told a House panel.

Thompson said he wants to increase the stockpile of Cipro to ensure that 12 million people could be treated for 60 days. He has asked Bayer, a German pharmaceutical company, to produce 200 million pills within two months. There is currently enough of the antibiotic to treat only 2 million people for 60 days.

Cipro has been the drug most widely used to treat anthrax. In recent days it has been given to thousands of postal workers, members of Congress and their staffs and others as a precaution against infection from the deadly disease.

Though health officials have advised against it, many Americans have been stockpiling Cipro for themselves and their families in case of anthrax exposure, leaving some pharmacies without an adequate supply and sparking concern about a possible shortage.

Bayer has asked the government to pay between $1.75 and $1.85 a pill. But Thompson, after meeting with Bayer executives yesterday afternoon, said the price should be under a dollar.

"They are going to either meet our price, which is less than one dollar, or else we're going to go to Congress and ask for some support to go in and do some other business," Thompson said last night on CNN's Larry King Live.

Congress can give the government authority to waive patents under extraordinary circumstances, such as a national security crisis, when a particular drug is needed in vast quantities.

The health secretary said he would prefer that Bayer produce more pills. But he said the government would look to companies that make generic ciprofloxacin if the firm did not lower its price.

Canada has agreed to pay Bayer $1.30 a pill for an emergency supply in the event of a bioterror attack. Canada had threatened to suspend the firm's patent and buy the drug from a generic manufacturer if it insisted on a higher price.

Thompson said that though Cipro is thought to be the drug of choice for the first five days of treatment, other antibiotics can treat anthrax "just as effectively" for the rest of the 60-day regimen.

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