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

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing 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.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid