[Ip-health] MSF Op-ed - Dear Prime Minister Modi: Stand Firm for Affordable Medicines
Judit.Rius at newyork.msf.org
Fri Sep 26 09:11:53 PDT 2014
Please find below op-ed just published in Foreign Policy by Mrs. Meena
Narula Ahamed and Dr. Unni Karunakara from Medecins Sans
Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on occasion of Indian Prime
Minister Modi first visit to the United States.
Thank you for sharing broadly
Dear Prime Minister Modi: Stand Firm for Affordable Medicines
BYMeena Narula Ahamed, Unni Karunakara
SEPTEMBER 26, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes his first official visit to the
United States, one issue at the top of the trade agenda is the strikingly
different approaches of the Indian and U.S. governments toward
intellectual property for medicines, particularly when patented
life-saving medicines are priced out of reach of patients.
As the ‘pharmacy of the developing world’, India plays an immensely
important role in supplying affordable medicines to people worldwide.
These include many patients treated in Doctors Without Borders/Medecins
Sans Frontieres (MSF) medical projects in more than 60 countries,
But for years, India has faced a barrage of criticism and pressure from
the United States and the European Union, multinational pharmaceutical
firms, and their lobbyists over its progressive intellectual property
policies. In the United States, India is the target of unwarranted and
purposely misleading claims of unfair intellectual property laws and is
accused of not “playing by the rules.” The U.S. Trade Representative
placed India on its Special 301 Trade list, a blacklist of countries whose
laws and actions do not comport with U.S. interests on intellectual
property, particularly those of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry.
Congressional hearings and an International Trade Commission (ITC)
investigation have also taken aim at India’s policies.
In actual fact, India’s laws were changed in 2005 to comply with the World
Trade Organization’s mandates for pharmaceutical patenting, and over the
past decade India has granted an increasing number of patents on
So why is the U.S. pharmaceutical industry crying foul over India's
policies? It stems from the fact that India has a law that limits the
granting of secondary and unnecessary patents. This means that companies
are not granted patents for obvious modifications of existing products;
however, companies are granted patents for truly new medicines.
In the United States, it is standard practice for pharmaceutical companies
to file for and obtain multiple patents relating to different aspects of
the same medicine. It is a way to extend patent protection and block
After existing asthma medicines were allowed to be re-patented with
slightly modified inhalers, generic asthma inhalers disappeared from the
U.S. market. Protected by extended patent terms, asthma inhaler
patent-holders in the United States now charge exponentially higher prices
and have kept generic competitors out of the market long after the patent
on the original medicine expired.
For more than seven years, Novartis fought India’s safeguard against
secondary patenting in court over one of its existing cancer drugs.
Novartis took the case to the Indian Supreme Court and lost.
In 2012, for the first time, India issued a so-called ‘compulsory license’
– when a government overrides a patent monopoly to make medicines
available to meet a public health need. This measure is used to jumpstart
generic production and allows generic manufacturers to enter the market by
paying a set royalty fee to the patent-holder. India’s compulsory license
authorized marketing of a more affordable version of a liver and kidney
cancer medication that Bayer was selling for $6000 per month in India;
generics are now available for less than $200 per month.
To understand what is at stake, think back to the 1990s, when first-line
medicines for HIV/AIDS cost more than $10,000 per patient per year. While
many AIDS patients in the United States and Europe were coming back to
life thanks to antiretrovirals, people in developing countries where MSF
works continued to die simply because they, or their governments, were
unable to afford the price of treatment.
The Indian generic industry stepped up, offering to produce the same
first-line medicines for $1 a day. Today, 11 million people are on HIV
treatment in developing countries, with around 90% of medicines sourced in
India. Broad access to affordable HIV medicines has enabled an
unprecedented global response to a disease that once seemed completely
India’s patent law and practices are favorable to public health, were put
in place through a democratic legislative process, and are in line with
international trade and intellectual property rules. Every country has the
right to set policies that balance private business interests with public
India has forged a fair and progressive path in this arena that is
influencing its BRICS peers and other developing countries. South Africa
and Brazil are looking to reform their patent systems to encourage public
health-driven innovation and discourage patent abuse. Prime Minister Modi
should reject any attempts to turn India back from this path.
Beyond this, MSF sees the need for a bold new vision for biomedical
innovation where open access to scientific knowledge is promoted and where
research and development (R&D) investments are not linked to the price of
products, thereby making medicines affordable for all who need them. India
can show even greater leadership by supporting proposals being considered
at the World Health Organization and other national and regional forums to
implement new models for medical innovation. Funding for medical R&D, as
well as vision, leadership and the right policies, are needed to transform
these proposals into action.
We urge the prime minister to stand firm in upholding India’s intellectual
property policies, which are in line with international trade and
intellectual property rules and which are the foundation of India’s
vitally important role in global health.
As a medical humanitarian organization that relies heavily on affordable
high quality medicines produced in India, we have seen firsthand the
lifesaving role that Indian laws and policies have played over the past
decade. We implore Prime Minister Modi to continue India’s leadership in
global health, innovation and access to medicines, by not only playing by
the rules but also by challenging them and changing the innovation system
so it better serves public health needs.
Meenakshi Narula Ahamed is a trustee of MSF India and is a member of
MSF-USA’s Board of Advisors. Unni Karunakara is a trustee of MSF India and
is the former international president of MSF.
Judit Rius Sanjuan
U.S. Manager & Legal Policy Adviser, Access Campaign
Medecins Sans Frontieres/ Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001 USA
Office: +1 212 655 3762 // Mobile: +1 917 331 9077
Email: judit.rius at newyork.msf.org // Twitter: juditrius
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