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Thompson: Cipro Price Must Be Lower

October 23, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Tuesday that he is prepared to go to Congress to seek a generic version of an antibiotic used to treat anthrax infection if the manufacturer does not lower its price.

``The price is the question, not the supply,″ he told a congressional hearing.

Bayer Corp. holds the patent on Cipro, the antibiotic being prescribed to thousands of postal workers as a precaution to protect them from anthrax infection _ as well as to dozens of other people exposed to anthrax-containing letters.

Federal health officials are looking to increase a government stockpile of the antibiotic in case wider treatment is needed. Thompson said Bayer says it can make 200 million pills within 60 days, enough to treat 12 million people.

But the price the government would have to pay to stockpile those pills is in dispute. ``I can assure you we are not going to pay the price they are asking,″ Thompson told Congress.

Bayer started asking between $1.75 and $1.85 a pill, ``and I can assure you they’re off of that by a long ways,″ Thompson later told reporters.

``I’ve given them my final offer,″ he said Tuesday afternoon after a final negotiation meeting with Bayer executives.

He would not reveal what that final offer was, but he told CNN’s ``Larry King Live″ late Tuesday that it was under $1 a pill.

Bayer did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Bayer just promised the Canadian government to deliver emergency supplies of Cipro, in the event of a bioterrorism attack there, for $1.30 a pill. That agreement apparently ends Canada’s threat to suspend Bayer’s Cipro patent and buy the medication from a generic producer instead.

Thompson said he would consider going to Congress to seek a waiver of the patent and allow production of a generic medication if Bayer does not lower its price.

In a full-page ad in The Washington Post, Bayer said it was substantially increasing production of Cipro. ``We will meet this threat head on,″ the ad said.

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