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

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    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.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora