News / Asia

Patent Dispute Threatens Access to Cheap Drugs in India

Indians suffering from HIV/AIDS attend a protest against the drugs manufacturer Novartis in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2007. Novartis is challenging a specific provision of the law that restricts the patenting of medicines to innovations only. Indians suffering from HIV/AIDS attend a protest against the drugs manufacturer Novartis in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2007. Novartis is challenging a specific provision of the law that restricts the patenting of medicines to innovations only.
x
Indians suffering from HIV/AIDS attend a protest against the drugs manufacturer Novartis in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2007. Novartis is challenging a specific provision of the law that restricts the patenting of medicines to innovations only.
Indians suffering from HIV/AIDS attend a protest against the drugs manufacturer Novartis in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2007. Novartis is challenging a specific provision of the law that restricts the patenting of medicines to innovations only.
Anjana Pasricha
NEW DELHI — A long running legal battle in India over drug patents could impact access to affordable, lifesaving drugs to millions of people across the globe. 

The case is being seen as a high stakes battle between drug companies supporting intellectual property rights and those who favor the production of cheap, generic drugs.   
Dr. Suniti Solomon has treated thousands of men and women suffering from HIV at her clinic in the southern city of Chennai since she detected India’s first AIDS infection 25 years ago. Affordable copies of brand name drugs produced by India’s booming generic drug industry have helped her patients enormously.   
 
“Earlier, when we did not have generic drugs, maybe one or two percent of my patients could afford the drugs from abroad," Solomon said. "Now, 60 to 70 percent can easily afford at least the first line drugs which keep them alive for maybe ten years or longer.”
 
Like the patients in Chennai, these generic drugs are a lifeline for millions of people in Africa and other developing countries.
 
Many of them are not aware of it, but a case pending before the Indian Supreme Court could have a far reaching impact on their access to these inexpensive drugs. 

It involves a legal challenge by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis to India’s refusal to grant a patent for a medicine used to treat leukemia. It has been winding its way through the Indian courts for almost six years. Final arguments will be heard next month.  
 
India denied a patent for Gleevec saying that it is not a new medicine but a salt formulation of a known drug. India does not allow companies to patent modifications of an old medicine unless its efficacy is significantly improved.
 
Forty countries, including the United States, China and Russia, have granted a patent for Gleevec. But in India, its generic version is being produced at a fraction of the cost.
 
Novartis says it is seeking clarity on how innovation by the drug industry will be protected in India. Ranjit Shahani, who heads the India operations of Novartis, says inadequate patent protection will discourage innovators.  
 
“The long road to innovation research is fraught with risks and huge costs," Shahani said. "Only one out of ten thousand experimental compounds in development will reach the marketplace and the cost is between one to two billion dollars for each medicine approved. A successful molecule that makes it as a drug needs to pay for thousands of those molecules that fail.”
 
The case has attracted international attention. The multinational drug industry sees the Indian law as a way of circumventing patent rights and wants more stringent standards.
 
However, supporters of India’s patent law say that it prevents a practice called “evergreening,” in which drug companies get new patents by making minor changes to older ones and stave off generic competition.
 
Leena Menghaney, a lawyer with Doctors Without Borders in New Delhi, calls it a test case.   
 
“If Novartis wins, it can have a huge chilling effect on generic production. Once patenting standards are lowered, that means more patents are granted on drugs, that means less number of drugs generic companies will be able to manufacture. So it has implications across the board for all essential medicines, particularly for HIV,” Mengheny said.
 
Health activists fear that a ruling in favor of Novartis may drastically reduce the global supply of inexpensive, generic drugs being used to treat people suffering from deadly diseases. They say if costs rise greatly, voluntary groups across the world will have to significantly scale down programs assisting patients who cannot afford lifesaving medicines.
 
One such patient is a 23-year-old student in Mumbai, Siddhesh Tilekar. Since he was diagnosed with cancer about three years ago, he gets drugs from a local cancer support group.
 
“We cannot afford that much of cost," Tilekar said. "If my family spends on my medicine, it is very difficult for us to survive.”
 
Multinational drug companies are worried about other provisions in India’s patent law.

Earlier this year, India allowed a domestic company to manufacture an expensive anti-cancer drug developed by Bayer Corporation using a rule under which a license can be granted if a drug is not available at a “reasonably affordable price.”  
 
According to Ranjit Shahani at Novartis, protecting patents is critical.
 
“The reality is without patents there will be no new drugs and without new drugs there will be no generics," he said. "So if innovation is not protected, it is the patient who will be the ultimate loser.”
 
Lawyers say there are also worries that India’s patent laws could become a model for other developing countries, limiting the multinational drug industry’s access to these fast-growing markets.

You May Like

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to enhancement or regression of democracy for Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: patent litigation from: Mexico
July 23, 2012 4:01 AM
Compulsory licensing is a contemporary necessity, and I'm glad to see countries from Australian to China implementing this model. I, for one, am heartened not only by the Indian Patent Office's recent decision to grant a compulsory license, but also by the further news that India now has plans to distribute some life-saving drugs for free. That -- and not gouging suffering patients at every possible opportunity -- seems to me to be the epitome of corporate responsibility.
http://www.generalpatent.com/blog


by: C Karen Stopford from: Connecticut
July 21, 2012 8:38 AM
What the pharmaceutical companies are saying is patently (no pun intended) false. Not every country lives by the American ethos of "profit at all costs." Why, believe it or not, there are some places in the world where human life has a value greater than a big credit limit. And innovation occurs in these places because people are respected, valued, allowed to explore and learn and satisfy their curiosity, and because people want to help other people. In fact, that's where most innovations come from. Not in America, of course - but elsewhere. Our system is cruel, unjust, immoral and unethical - and we will bully every other country in the world to do as we do - or else. Let 'em die! We need a profit!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid