Thailand's army-backed government said Wednesday it would import generic versions of popular heart disease drug Plavix from India in a move likely to anger Western pharmaceutical giants.
'We will start importing the first batch of two million Plavix pills,' Vichai Chokvivat, chairman of the state-run drugmaker Government Pharmaceutical Organisation, said in a statement.
The imported version of Plavix, a blood-thinning treatment to prevent heart attacks, costs just one baht (three cents) per pill, Vichai said, adding the shipment would arrive within two months.
Thailand has locked horns with Western pharmaceutical giants by issuing compulsory licenses, which temporarily suspend patent protections, for expensive medications.
The government has so far approved compulsory licenses for Plavix and two key AIDS drugs -- Kaletra and Efavirenz, and has threatened to expand its generic programs to include cancer drugs.
It has already begun importing cheaper versions of Efavirenz from India, a major source of generic drugs.
Thailand's move has drawn outrage from drug giants and worries from the United States and Europe.
Earlier in the month, European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson warned the government against its generic drug program, calling it 'a matter of concern for the European Union.'
But Vichai rejected the criticism, saying Plavix was too expensive for Thai patients. Currently, one Plavix pill costs over 70 baht (two dollars) at drugstores in Thailand.
Thailand's health ministry has said fewer than 10 percent of the 300,000 heart disease patients in Thailand can buy Plavix. The ministry has said heart disease is Thailand's second leading cause of death, after HIV/AIDS.
Plavix is sold by French-based Sanofi-Aventis and its US partner, Bristol Myers-Squibb.