[Ip-health] Swissinfo: Colombian minister proposes ending Novartis patent

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri Apr 29 04:01:49 PDT 2016

Colombian minister proposes ending Novartis patent
By Anand Chandrasekhar
APR 28, 2016 - 15:19

The Colombian Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria has announced that he will
start proceedings to divest Novartis of its patent on the cancer drug
Glivec Imatinib. The Swiss government was accused of lobbying against such
a move.

On April 26, Gaviria revealed plans to approach the Colombian patent office
and ask it to strip the Novartis patent on the grounds of public interest.
This could lead the patent office to grant a compulsory license to allow
the generic production of Glivec Imatinib at affordable prices by domestic

In November 2014, a group of Colombian NGOs had asked the health ministry
to declare access to Glivec a matter of public interest.

“It is a very courageous decision by the minister given the pressure from
his own commerce ministry, Novartis, the US, Switzerland, and the pharma
industry as a whole,” Patrick Durisch of the Swiss NGO Berne Declaration
told swissinfo.ch.

The move would save Colombia around CHF12 million ($12.4 million) a year,
he added.

The process of preparing a resolution to submit to the Colombian patent
office will take a couple of weeks, and it will be a few months before the
office announces its decision.
 *Tug of war*

Four years ago, Colombia’s patent office denied Novartis’ patent for Glivec
Imatinib. But the Swiss pharma giant took the issue to court and received a
favourable decision in 2012. The patent prohibited the production of
generic versions of the drug, which were 70% cheaper than the original.

The Colombian health minister then tried to negotiate with Novartis to
bring the price of the drug down to 140 Mexican Peso (CHF7.8) per milligram
from its current price of 300 Mexican Peso. But Novartis refused to budge
on the price of Glivec Imatinib.

In 2014, Colombian NGOs requested that the health minister declare removing
the Glivec Imatinib patent a matter of public interest. This would set into
motion the process of stripping Novartis of its patent and allow cheap
generic versions to be produced by domestic firms.

The Swiss government actively lobbied
this move in 2015, prompting accusations of siding with Novartis to the
detriment of poor Colombian patients.

A Novartis spokesperson told swissinfo.ch that the company was not against
the practice of issuing compulsory licenses in exceptional circumstances
such as a public health crisis but was against the use of such a clause to
force price negotiation.

"In the case of Glivec in Colombia, a DPI [Declaration of Public Interest]
is inappropriate as there is no shortage of Glivec or evidence of other
access issues, the price is already subject to government controls and
there no monopoly with multiple generics already on the market."

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