[Ip-health] MSF: Novartis’ six-year legal challenge against India’s pro-health patent law heads to Supreme Court

Joanna Keenan-Siciliano joanna.l.keenan at gmail.com
Tue Sep 11 00:37:45 PDT 2012

*Novartis’ six-year legal challenge against India’s pro-health patent law
heads to Supreme Court *

*Case could negatively impact India’s role as ‘pharmacy of the developing

*New Delhi/Geneva 11 September 2012 – *Swiss pharmaceutical company
Novartis heads to the Indian Supreme Court today in New Delhi, in a final
bid to undermine a key public health safeguard in Indian patent law
specifically designed to prevent drug companies from abusive patenting
practices which keep medicine prices high. If successful, the move would
have a devastating impact on access to essential medicines across the
developing world, according to international humanitarian medical
organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which relies on affordable
generic drugs produced in India to carry out its work in 68 countries.

“For six years, Novartis has been trying to browbeat India into changing a
part of its patent law that protects people’s access to affordable
medicines, not corporate profits”, said Leena Menghaney, Manager of MSF’s
Access Campaign in India. “The current system in India was designed to
prevent drug companies from extending patent monopolies with additional
patents on the same medicine.”

Novartis has been engaged in a legal battle over a part of India’s patent
law (known as Section 3d) which says that a new form of a known medicine
can only be patented if it shows significantly improved therapeutic
efficacy over existing compounds; this is a provision to stop the common
industry practice of extending, or ‘evergreening,’ their patent monopolies
for routine modifications of known compounds.

Section 3d, which is in line with international trade rules, formed the
basis for Novartis not being granted a patent for its cancer drug imatinib
mesylate (marketed as Gleevec) in 2006. Novartis’ patent application was on
a new form of the imatinib molecule already described several years
previously in patents in the US and other developed countries.

“We’ve already seen the benefits of public health safeguards in India’s
patent law in practice”, said Menghaney. “Thanks to India’s strict law,
patent applications on paediatric versions and fixed-dose combinations of
drugs used to treat HIV have been rejected. These are the very medicines
that need generic competition to be affordable.”

The ramifications of a Novartis win would be global, with India in the
future being forced to grant far more patents than it currently does. This
in turn would greatly restrict the kind of generic competition that has,
for example, been instrumental in bringing the price of HIV medicines down
by 99 per cent since 2000, and made the scale-up of HIV treatment to eight
million people in developing countries possible.

“Because India is the developing world’s pharmacy, the consequences of this
case stretch far beyond the country’s borders,” said Dr. Manica
Balasegaram, Executive Director of MSF’s Access Campaign. “Novartis’s legal
actions are a direct threat to the lifeline for millions of people in
developing countries.”

- ends -

* *

*Notes for the editor:*

In 2006, Novartis challenged Section 3d in India’s High Court as
unconstitutional, which prompted MSF to launch the Novartis Drop the Case
campaign in a bid to get them to drop their case. 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. The company is
now seeking to challenge the interpretation of Section 3d, or attempting to
weaken the law of any substance, in the Indian Supreme Court.

*For more information, visit www.msfaccess.org/stopnovartis.*


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


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