• Switzerland's news in English

Novartis patent case threatens cheap drug supply: MSF

AFP · 5 Sep 2011, 16:20

Published: 05 Sep 2011 16:20 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Supply of cheap, copycat drugs for the developing world could be badly threatened if Swiss firm Novartis wins a challenge to India's patent law, medical charity MSF said on Monday.

The warning came as India's Supreme Court was due to hear more arguments on Tuesday in an appeal by Novartis seeking patent protection for a newer version of its leukaemia drug Glivec -- a case watched closely by global pharmaceutical firms.  

"If the patent law challenge is successful, it would have a devastating impact on access to affordable medicines across the developing world," Leena Menghaney, India representative of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), told a news conference.  

Novartis is contesting the Indian patent office's rejection of a patent application for the updated version of Glivec that is better absorbed by the body. MSF calls the improvement a "minor modification".  

The drugmaker's challenge goes to the heart of India's patent act, which says a patent cannot be granted for an old drug unless changes make it significantly more therapeutically effective.  

The Supreme Court case is the final act in a lengthy legal battle between Novartis and patient rights groups in India, where local firms produce generic drugs at a fraction of the cost of brand-name originals.  

Indian generic versions of Glivec sell for 8,000 rupees ($174) for a month's treatment compared with 120,000 rupees for the brand-name version, MSF said.  

Pharmaceutical multinationals argue that protecting patents is crucial to stimulating the research and development of new drugs.  

India, known as the "pharmacy to the developing world," has long been a key provider of cheap generic medicines as it did not issue drug patents until 2005, when it was obliged to adhere to WTO intellectual property regulations.  

Now, India allows patents for new inventions after 1995 or for an updated drug showing much greater therapeutic efficacy. The base compound for Glivec was discovered in 1993.  

But India rejects applications for minor changes to existing drugs, which critics say are aimed at extending the life of original patent monopolies from their original 20 years -- a practice known as "evergreening".  

A spokesman for Novartis said on Monday the court's decision was essential to the "viability of the innovative pharmaceutical business in this country", adding that Glivec had received patent protection in nearly 40 countries.  

The cost difference between generic and brand name drugs is crucial for poor people around the world, MSF said, noting generics from India have pushed down prices for older anti-AIDS drugs by 99 percent.  

Story continues below…

MSF buys 80 percent of its generic AIDS drugs from India and the humanitarian group said it is currently keeping 170,000 people in 19 countries alive on the treatment.  

"We couldn't afford to treat them all without these generic drugs," Joanna Keenan, spokesman for Geneva-based MSF, told AFP.  

If the court accepts Novartis's arguments, the ruling could set a precedent allowing firms to acquire patents on modified versions of existing medicines -- extending the time of their exclusive right to make drugs, MSF said.  

"It would create a scenario in which only the richest survive. The outcome of this case is literally a matter of life and death for people," Loon Gangte, who heads an Indian group representing people living with HIV/AIDS, told AFP.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
'Protect Swiss waterways or lose our fish': WWF
Photo: Richi Stadelmann/WWF

Eighty-five percent of fish species in Switzerland are under threat, according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

SBB pilots new annual pass – costing 12,200 francs
The 'door-to-door' pass includes use of an electric car. Photo: SBB

Swiss federal railways (SBB) is looking for 100 people willing to pilot a new annual transport pass that includes use of an electric car.

Immigration to Switzerland falls as emigration rises
File photo: The Local

Immigration in Switzerland has fallen considerably this year, according to official figures.

Wawrinka aces his way into Basel quarterfinals
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The home favourite returns to the quarterfinals of the Swiss Indoors for the first time in five years.

Illegal immigrant dies after setting himself on fire
The victim was treated at University Hospital Zurich. Photo: University Hospital Zurich

The 45-year-old Tunisian was threatened with deportation.

Swiss government rejects call for second immigration vote
Photo: Justus Blumer/Christophe G

The Swiss government has rejected a popular initiative calling for a revote on plans to limit immigration.

Bern: companies should report salary inequality by law
File photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The Swiss government wants to force small companies to examine their rates of pay every four years.

Husband in custody after Orbe body identified
File photo: Bas Leenders

The deceased is a 55-year-old woman who lived in the house with her husband.

Presented by MoneyPark
How to get a mortgage in Switzerland
Houses in Zürich. Photo: Pixabay.

Ready to buy? Here’s what you need to know as an expat about Swiss regulations, how to finance your purchase, and why you should use a broker.

Autumn in Switzerland: ten stunning Instagram photos
Photo: Swiss Tourism/Jan Geerk

Switzerland is beautiful in all seasons, but as these photos show, autumn is a special time in the alpine country.

Photo: Unterirdisch Ueberleben
Inside Switzerland’s largest nuclear bunker – 40 years on
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: The Local
Ticino firefighters rescue cow from swimming pool
Photo: Antoni Da Campo
Vegan wins battle to be accepted by Swiss army
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Ten Swiss ski resorts named most expensive in Europe
Photo: Randy Kashka
Swiss women will ‘work for free’ for the rest of year
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Montreux throws hat in Olympic rings
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Seven things you’ll miss about Switzerland if you leave
Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
jobs available