[Ip-health] MSF launches online resource for challenging unwarranted drug patents

Joanna Keenan-Siciliano joanna.l.keenan at gmail.com
Tue Oct 2 01:33:15 PDT 2012

*MSF launches online resource for challenging unwarranted drug patents*

* *

*On 10-year anniversary of landmark Thai case, new ‘*Patent Opposition
Database*’ aims to boost access to medicines in countries increasingly hit
by high drug prices *

*Geneva**, 2 October 2012* – A new online resource for civil society and
patient groups in developing countries to challenge unwarranted drug
patents was launched today by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The *Patent
Opposition Database* comes as many developing countries face dramatically
high drug prices because patents block the production of lower-cost generic
versions. MSF relies on affordable medicines for its medical work in more
than 60 countries; in the case of HIV treatment, over 80 per cent of
medicines used in developing countries are generics. The *Patent Opposition
Database* is accessible at

“Drug companies routinely apply for patents or are granted monopolies on
medicines even when these aren’t actually deserved,” said Michelle Childs,
Director of Policy Advocacy for MSF’s Access Campaign. “It’s a myth that
every patent application that is filed is valid. When you look closely, a
patent application may fail one or more of the legal tests it needs to
pass. The idea behind this database is to help civil society and patient
groups stop unwarranted patents from blocking people’s access to more
affordable medicines.”

A ‘patent opposition’— a legal challenge to prevent or overturn the
granting of an unwarranted patent — is allowed under international trade
rules as a way to keep checks and balances on pharmaceutical patenting. In
countries where they are allowed, like Thailand, Brazil or India, patent
oppositions have successfully prevented undeserved patent monopolies from
being granted and allowed generic competition to bring the price of
medicines down.

“Successful patent oppositions by civil society in India have enabled us to
use more affordable generic versions of key HIV medicines in our treatment
programs”, said Dr Esther C Casas, MSF HIV/TB Specialist for Zimbabwe.

"Due to the volume of applications, local patent examiners can miss
information and grant unjustified patents," explains Vikas Ahuja, President
of Delhi Network of Positive People. "Just putting two or three separate
pills into one, or using known industry practices to formulate a drug,
should not be considered innovative enough to warrant a new 20-year patent,
for example.  By filing patent oppositions, we can highlight this
information and the possibility of invalid patents being granted is

Successful examples include the opposition by Indian groups to
GlaxoSmithKline's patent application in India on the HIV
fixed-dose-combination zidovudine/lamivudine, on the grounds that it was
not a 'new invention', but simply the combination of two existing drugs.
This combination is now widely used in HIV treatment in developing
countries.  A pre-grant opposition filed by the Cancer Patient Aid
Association was also the spur for the rejection of Novartis's patent
application on the salt form of imatinib, on the basis that the medicine
was merely a new form of an old medicine.  The move – which is now the
subject of a challenge before the Supreme Court - opened up generic
competition on the drug used in the treatment chronic myeloid leukaemia and
brought the price down by 92 per cent from over US$2158 per month to $174
per month.

 “An unwarranted patent not only delays the entry of price-lowering
competition, it also undermines the drive for genuine innovation,” said
Michelle Childs. “With very few innovative new drugs in their product
pipelines, pharmaceutical companies desperately want to stave off generic
competition by trying to get more patents on old molecules, or on processes
that are not new.”

The *Patent Opposition Database* aims to guide civil society groups through
the process of challenging an unjustified patent. It will allow
organisations to forge new alliances and share vital specialist knowledge,
as a patent application can often be challenged in different countries on
the same basis. It contains a searchable listing of 45 patent oppositions
relating to key medicines and over 200 other supporting documents that will
aid in the building of future patent oppositions. The resource will grow as
more data is added.

The launch of the database marks the ten-year anniversary of the first time
a patent opposition filed by a patient group - Thailand’s AIDS Access
Foundation - successfully overturned an unfair patent on the HIV drug
didanosine in the Thai courts.

“At the time, we didn’t have much of a choice but to try and oppose the
patent – unaffordable prices meant antiretroviral treatment in developing
countries was still scarce, so it was our lives on the line”, said Nimit
Tien U-dom, Director of the AIDS Access Foundation, speaking at a protest
in Bangkok to mark the tenth anniversary of the didanosine lawsuit.

-ends -

*Joanna Keenan*
Press Officer
Médecins Sans Frontières - Access Campaign
E: joanna.keenan[at]geneva.msf.org
T: twitter.com/joanna_keenan


More information about the Ip-health mailing list