India’s Supreme Court has dismissed a patent bid by Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Novartis.



It’s regarded as a landmark ruling with global significance, as India’s generic drug industry supplies much of the cheap medicine used in the developing world.


Biwa Kwan reports.


Novartis has fought a seven-year legal battle in India to gain patent protection for an updated version of its leukaemia-fighting drug, Glivec.


The Swiss company argued that it was in effect a new medicine, that deserved patent protection.


But the Indian Supreme Court has upheld an earlier decision that it’s only an amended version of Novartis’ earlier product, which is already out of the patent-protection period.


The ruling comes as an immediate relief to about 300,000 patients in India currently taking Glivec.


The brand name version of Glivec in India costs around $2500 per month, but the generic version is almost 15 times cheaper.


However, one senior medical oncologist in India, Meenu Walia, says the High Court ruling may discourage drug companies from introducing newer products into the local market.


“It’s a double-edged sword. They will get access to cheaper molecules but they may not get access to newer molecules if all the original research companies are not interested in putting their money in coming into the Indian market.”


One big drug company, Pfizer Inc, has reacted to the High Court ruling by saying it’s concerned with the impact on the innovation and investment environment in India.


The vice chairman of Novarti’s subsidiary in India, Ranjit Shahani, says the company will continue to file for patents, while hoping for changes to intellectual property laws.


“We will continue with our investments in India even though cautiously, new products which we launched we will ask for patents for these products and we hope that the eco system for intellectual property in the country improves.”


Health activists have hailed the Indian High Court ruling as a win for people in poorer nations to access affordable life-saving medicines.


India produces 90 percent of the $26 billion global market for generic drugs that are particularly used in the developing world.


Intellectual property expert at the Australian National University, Dr Mathew Rimmer, says the court ruling sets a precedent against the practice known as “evergreening”, under which drug manufacturers modify drugs in a bid to extend the patents on them.


“The decision of India’s Supreme Court is critically important because it emphasises that governments can take action to deal with evergreening by drug companies. And that decision is critically important for India, in terms of providing accessible and affordable medicines for the poor. But it’s also critically important because India is still a major exporter of generic medicines all around the world.”


But Mathew Rimmer says the future development of India’s generic drug export industry remains uncertain.


“I guess there’s a kind of a question about will India’s generic companies still be able to provide such a global supply of generic drugs, or whether they will be bought out or taken over or shift their kind of business. So I guess that’s the kind of larger question that is kind of unclear to me at this stage about what will happen in terms of the evolution of that particular industry.”


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