[Ip-health] Leukemia Patient in Court for Buying Cheap Medicine from India
tahir at i-mak.org
Wed Dec 24 06:51:17 PST 2014
*Lu Yong nearly went broke getting his drugs in China, but purchasing a
cheap generic substitute from abroad has landed him in legal trouble*
(Beijing) – To prosecutors, a leukemia patient named Lu Yong is a criminal
involved in credit card fraud and a counterfeit drug scam. But to 1,000
fellow leukemia patients in China, Lu is an unsung hero for helping them
get access to cheap, life-saving generic medicines from India.
The difference of opinion underscores a dilemma confronting Chinese
patients who cannot afford expensive imported drugs but also face obstacles
getting access to life-saving substitutes.
Lu, a 46-year old exporter from Wuxi, in the eastern province of Jiangsu,
will stand trial in a court in Yuanjiang, in the central province of Hunan,
on charges of credit card-related fraud and sales of fake drugs.
Some 300 fellow patients have petitioned the courts to have his name
Lu was diagnosed with leukemia more than 10 years ago and treated with
Glivec, a patented drug made by Novartis International AG. The Swiss
company got a license to sell the medicine in China in 2002.
The drug regimen costs 23,500 yuan a month and is not covered by China's
health care insurance, meaning it is too expensive for many ordinary people.
After spending hundreds of thousands of yuan on the medicine, Lu was close
to be broke in 2004 when he came across an English-language article
mentioning another leukemia drug, Veenat, a much cheaper generic version of
Glivec made in India.
He spent 3,000 yuan on Veenat bought via mail order, and his condition
quickly improved. Lu not only switched to the generic drug himself, but
also started to help fellow patients he met in an online forum buy it.
For this, he was arrested in a crackdown on credit card fraud in Yuanjiang
in August 2013. In July he was charged with "disrupting management of
credit cards" and sales of fake medications.
Luo Jian, a prosecutor in Yuanjiang, told Caixin that any drug lacking a
government license – even one made by a registered pharmaceutical company –
is classified as counterfeit under Chinese law.
Lu also broke the law by providing his Indian supplier with a credit card
he got from abroad in order to simplify distribution, Luo said. (Using
credit cards from domestic banks to complete international transactions is
often impossible in China.)
The patent for Novartis' Glivec expired in 2013, and at least two
China-based pharmaceutical companies have jumped on the opportunity to
churn out generic substitutes.
But a generic version produced by Chia Tai Tianqing Pharmaceutical Group in
Jiangsu cost 4,200 yuan a month and another substitute, from Jiangsu Hansoh
Pharmaceutical, cost 3,800 yuan a month. The versions from India cost 200
yuan a month.
"That's why mail orders of (both patented and generic drugs) from overseas
suppliers are so popular in China," an analyst with knowledge of the drug
Chinese patients snub locally made generic medicines because they are
concerned about quality.
Shi Lichen, a senior partner at the medical and pharmaceutical unit of All
PKU, a consultancy in Beijing, said India's patent law allows companies to
make generic versions of patented drugs released in developed countries.
"That's why Indian-made generic substitutes can be much cheaper," he said.
Chinese law lets drugs firms apply to mass produce generic drugs on the
grounds that major public health threat exists, but few companies have
shown interest because the government forces them to wait a long time for
For example, an executive from a Chinese pharmaceutical company said that
that the patent for Tenofovir, or Viread, which is used to treat HIV and
hepatitis B infections, would expire in 2017. "But if we apply for approval
of a generic substitute right now, we will have to wait for three years,
which is not far away from the expiration date of the drug's patent."
(Rewritten by Li Rongde)
Co-Founder and Director of Intellectual Property
Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge (I-MAK)
*Email:* tahir at i-mak.org
*Tel:* +1 917 455 6601/+1 646 884 7418/+44 771 853 9472
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