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A Canadian government decision to override the patent for the anti-anthrax drug Cipro and buy a generic version brought threats Friday of possible legal action from the antibiotic’s maker, Bayer AG. Officials at the Germany-based drug maker, which holds a patent through 2003 to sell Cipro in Canada, said they wanted talks with the health ministry over the decision made public Thursday. “We will meet with the ministry of health as soon as possible to discuss this matter,” Bayer spokeswoman Christina Sehnert said. In Canada, Bayer officials were more belligerent, saying a lawsuit was possible. Bayer Canada vice president Doug Grant was quoted in two newspapers as saying the company would “consider all options in order to defend our patent.” In the United States, officials have said they have the right to override a similar Bayer patent on Cipro but haven’t done so. Bayer has promised to triple production of the drug and says it can meet the U.S. government’s needs, but some are unconvinced. “If we increase the number of manufacturers producing Cipro, we’re more likely to have enough on hand should we need it,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said last week. “Knowing we have enough Cipro just in case would go a long way toward calming the public about potential shortages and hopefully dissuade people from buying, stockpiling and taking a drug they currently don’t need.” Canadian Health Minister Allan Rock insisted his government’s decision to buy 900,000 generic Cipro tablets at a cost of more than $665,000 was a necessary precaution to bolster supplies, even if the threat of anthrax in Canada remained extremely low. “We are doing what is necessary to protect Canadians,” he said Thursday. “I make no apologies.” Apotex, the Canadian company contracted by the government to supply the generic Cipro, said it would charge the government less to produce the pills than Bayer. Jack Kay, the Apotex president, told the Globe and Mail newspaper that the brand name Cipro must be imported, so the government wants to guarantee a locally manufactured supply. Anthrax attacks and the accompanying scare in the United States have proved a mixed blessing for Bayer. Cipro was Bayer’s No. 1 seller even before the attack, with $1.6 billion U.S. in sales last year. Bayer’s pharmaceutical division has been in trouble since the withdrawal of Baycol, its cholesterol-lowering drug, after reports it was associated with the deaths of more than 50 patients worldwide. Baycol, sometimes marketed as Lipobay, was the company’s No. 3 drug, and sales were expected to reach $890 million this year. Bayer says there’s no way increased sales of Cipro can make up for losing Baycol. One reason is that the company does not make as much per tablet on its bulk sales to governments as it does selling drugs through pharmacies. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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