[Ip-health] MSF PR: Drug company Novartis tries to weaken Indian patent law that protects people

Joanna Keenan-Siciliano joanna.l.keenan at gmail.com
Mon Sep 5 01:52:24 PDT 2011


*Drug company Novartis tries to weaken Indian patent law that protects
people*

* *

*Geneva/New Delhi 5 September 2011 – *Novartis will go before the Indian
Supreme Court tomorrow in the latest attempt by the Swiss multinational
pharmaceutical company to undermine a key public health safeguard in Indian
patent law specifically designed to prevent drug companies from abusively
patenting known medicines.  If successful, the move would have a devastating
impact on access to affordable medicines across the developing world,
according to international humanitarian medical organisation Médecins Sans
Frontières (MSF).



“Novartis is trying to straightjacket Indian patent offices. It wants to
stop them from being able to reject patents on new forms of old medicines
that show little improved therapeutic efficacy,” said Leena Menghaney, India
Manager of the MSF Access Campaign. “The system we have now is not perfect,
but it does prevent drug companies from getting unjustified 20 year
monopolies every time they come up with a new use or a new form of a known
medicine.  Novartis wants to make this safeguard meaningless, whatever the
consequences it may have on public health.”



Novartis is challenging a part of India’s patent law – Section 3(d) – which
read with other provisions of the patent law says that a new form of a known
medicine can only be patented if it is not obvious and shows significantly
improved therapeutic efficacy over existing medicines. When India, as part
of its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO),
introduced patents on medicines in 2005, it did so in a way that sought to
balance private patent rights with public health needs.

“If Novartis succeeds in weakening the interpretation of Section 3(d) for
the purpose of obtaining a patent on a specific salt of the anti-cancer drug
imatinib, it would force India to grant far more patents than it currently
does or is required to under international trade rules”, said Dr Amit
Sengupta of People’s Health Movement. “This could lead to generic
competition on many essential drugs ending entirely and prices for these in
both India and developing countries remaining very high.”

“Because India is the source of the majority of affordable quality medicines
used across the developing world, the consequences of this stretch far
beyond the country’s borders,” said Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Director of
MSF’s Access Campaign.  “The threat to the developing world is real, for all
patients – it’s not just cancer patients in India who are in the firing line
here.”



“We’ve already seen the benefits of public health safeguards in India’s
patent law in practice”, said Ms Menghaney. “Thanks to 3(d), patent
applications on child-friendly formulations and fixed-dose combinations of
antiretroviral drugs have been rejected.  These are the very medicines that
need generic competition to be affordable.”



But Section 3(d) has long irked pharmaceutical companies. In 2006, when the
Indian patents office ruled that Novartis did not deserve a patent for
imatinib mesylate (Gleevec) on the grounds that the application claimed a
new form of a drug too old to be patentable in India, the company embarked
on a series of lawsuits, seeking to have Section 3(d) declared
unconstitutional.  Having lost that case in 2007 and the patent appeal in
2009, Novartis is now attempting to ensure the words ‘therapeutic efficacy’
are interpreted in a way that allows even small changes to an old medicine –
such as imatinib mesylate – to be patentable.



“Decisions made by Indian patent offices and Indian courts are a question of
life or death for people living with HIV/AIDS”, said Loon Gangte, of the
Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+). “We rely on the availability of
affordable AIDS drugs and other essential medicines made by Indian generic
manufacturers to stay alive and healthy”.




*For interviews or more information, contact:
Joanna Keenan +91 9871 800 723*

*Shailly Gupta +91 9899 976 108*

* *

*Notes for the editor:* In 2006, MSF launched the Novartis Drop the Case
campaign in a bid to get Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis to drop its
first case against the Indian government.  Nearly half a million people
signed a petition, which was presented to the company. Novartis didn’t drop
the case, but lost in a court ruling in 2007. *For more information, visit
www.msfaccess.org.***



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