An imitation of the heart drug Plavix's delivery in Indian market is delayed due to the fear of policy change on generic drugss by the new giovernment of Thai.
Thailand's previous junta-appointed government issued so-called compulsory licences temporarily suspending patent protections for pricey medicines, thus allowing production of cheaper copycat versions.
However, the new government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has launched a review of the programme, alarming health activists who fear that it will be scrapped.
Before the review was announced, the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) signed a contract to import two million tablets of a generic version of the popular heart drug Plavix from Indian firm Cadila Health Care.
"The company explained that it is producing the order, not cancelling it. But they are delaying delivery a bit -- from March to April -- to evaluate the legal environment," GPO's managing director Witit Artavatkun said.
Activists have warned that some 34,000 heart disease sufferers could lose access to cheap drugs, accusing the government of halting the import deal for fear of lawsuits from Western drugmakers.
"They're afraid that if the government cancels the compulsory license, it could be sued" by French group Sanofi-Aventis, which holds the patent, said Saree Ongsomwang, manager of the Consumer Federation.
"Plavix is expensive. Hospitals charge between 80 to 120 baht (2.47 to 3.70 dollars) for one tablet," she said.
The suspension of patent protections with compulsory licenses, which are allowed under World Trade Organisation rules, has angered Western drug giants who say it is an infringement of their intellectual property rights.
Activists have hailed copycat drugs, saying they help developing nations seeking cheaper medicines for the poor.
Thailand's new health minister Chiya Sasomsub insisted Friday the review of the policy would only cover cancer drugs and not anti-AIDS medications or the heart pill Plavix.
During its final days in power, the outgoing government made a last-minute decision to issue compulsory licenses for three cancer drugs, and it is those medicines which are now under review, Chiya said in a statement.
Thailand's decision to allow a generic version of Plavix sparked particular controversy because the blood-thinning treatment is believed to be the world's second best-selling medication.
But Chiya said the new government would not change its policy on that drug and would try to reassure the Indian firm while pressing for due delivery of the pills.