BASEL, SWITZERLAND – Tomorrow in New Delhi, the next hearing of the case brought by the Basel-based pharmaceutical firm Novartis against the Indian government is scheduled to take place. Novartis is challenging a critical health safeguard – section 3(d) of Indian Patents Act in the Supreme Court of India – to secure monopoly control over its life-saving cancer medicine, Glivec. In essence, Novartis wants section 3(d), which requires stringent evidence of proof of significantly enhanced therapeutic efficacy if a modification of an existing pharmaceutical entity is to receive new patent protection, to be reinterpreted to allow routine “ever-greening” of minor modifications to existing medicines resulting in additional 20-year patent monopolies. If Novartis wins this case, the ability of India to produce cheap generic medicines of slightly modified molecules will be strongly affected as it will set a precedent for all future patent applications. India is known as the ‘Pharmacy of the developing world’ for producing and supplying affordable generic drugs to more than 150 developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In particular, India supplies nearly 80% of the medicines used to treat over seven million people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries. India’s capacity to provide affordable drugs across all disease categories can be seriously undermined by victory of Novartis in this court case and this will certainly lead to the death of millions of people.
Novartis through its press statements, continue to assert that access to medicines is not impacted by the granting of patent for a new medicine. The company stresses that it is simply about availability of medicines not affordability. But they are wrong. In the ordinary course of events, obtaining a patent gives the right holder authority to exclude others from making the patented product or using a patented process. That right to exclude in turns gives rise to monopoly pricing power, especially in the pharmaceutical contexts. Big Pharma companies price their medicines at exorbitant rates catering only to elite group to make more profits instead of selling larger quantities at lower prices that poor people and poor countries might afford. In economic jargon, these excluded patients are called a dead-weight cost – in the real world, they are merely called dead.
Novartis and its CEO Joseph Jimenez are declaring war to people living with the diseases worldwide. That is the reason why we, people living with the diseases, activists and experts, we have decided to launch Act Up-Basel to declare the war on pharma.
Notes to the Editor :
The basic molecule imatinib was first patented in 1993. Post signing of WTO TRIPS agreement by India in 1995, Novartis filed a patent application on the mesylate salt of imatinib in 1998 at the Indian patent office. Novartis’ application was rejected by the patent office ruling that the application claimed a new form of an already existing medicine. The company then filed several lawsuit against the Indian Government, one of which is being heard in Supreme Court of India.
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