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Medical Aid Groups Welcome Indian Court Ruling on Medicine Patents


Medical aid groups, fighting for access to cheap medicines for the poor, are applauding an Indian court's decision to throw out a Swiss drug company's legal challenge on patent issues. Anjana Pasricha tells us more from VOA's bureau in New Delhi.

The court in Chennai threw out Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis' challenge to India's patent law, in a case closely watched around the world.

Novartis had filed suit after its bid to patent a new version of its anti-cancer drug, Gleevec, was rejected earlier this year. Indian law denies patents for minor improvements to existing medicines.

The ruling means Indian companies can continue to manufacture and sell medicines produced before 1995, such as Gleevec, at a fraction of the price in Western countries. The only caveat is that domestic companies must use a different manufacturing process from that of the inventor.

The patent law here has enabled the Indian pharmaceutical industry to emerge as a major supplier of affordable drugs throughout the developing world.

Tido von Schoen-Angerer, a director at the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, called the ruling a "major victory" for poor people across the world.

"The ruling still allows that for medicines that are not real breakthrough, big innovations, not to be patented in India," said Tido von Schoen-Angerer. "Right now we have a desperate need for several of the new HIV medicines to be produced cheaply in India, but the same will be true for all other inventions in other disease area be it cancer or other infectious diseases. So this has very broad importance for health in developing countries."

The Indian pharmaceutical industry, which is raking in profits, is also pleased with the ruling, noting that hundreds of similar pending patent applications will not be approved, and it can continue making a host of drugs, including anti-AIDS medicines.

The secretary-general of Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, Dilip G. Shah, says the ruling is a "major relief."

"Number of products which are in the market, they will be able to manufacture and continue to market them, and it will also save them from expensive litigation," said Shah.

Novartis, however, says the Chennai court ruling will have negative consequences for research into and development of better drugs for patients in India and overseas. It says the Indian patent law stifles innovation.

Several developed countries argue that drug patents must be protected worldwide, because pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars to create new drugs. The issue is a key sticking point in trade liberalization talks at the World Trade Organization.

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