Patents versus Patients! (Part 1)

In 2006, the Basel-based Swiss pharma giant Novartis AG filed a court case against India. If Novartis had won the case, it would have meant that millions of people around the world would not have been able to afford life-saving drugs. To find out more, take a look at this link. The court case itself was related to a technical issue about a patent for its drug Glivec/Gleevec that is used to treat leukaemia (blood cancer). Take a look at this link for the details of the case. But the legal challenge by Novartis was not just a mere technical issue. It had much wider ramifications for the whole planet. Had the ruling gone in favour of the Swiss firm, it would have sounded the death knell for public health in many countries around the world.

Fortunately, Novartis lost the case. It might have appealed against the decision of the Madras High Court in the Supreme Court of India. According to Oxfam,But half a million people around the world rallied behind India and supported her rights to produce affordable medicines, not just for her own citizens but for those in other countries as well. This massive groundswell of support and attention raised this from a technical issue, to one of global and moral significance.(Emphasis added) Novartis was forced to drop its plan to file an appeal against the ruling due to the immense public support around the world for India.

India stopped issuing patents for drugs in 1970. From then on, it issued patents only for the processes used in the manufacture of drugs. To put it in simple terms, a company could only patent the method of manufacturing a drug and not the drug itself. This led to different companies manufacturing the same drug using slightly different processes. The resulting competition brought down the prices of life saving drugs and brought them within the reach of millions of sick people in India and other countries. India became a producer of high quality generic drugs that were used to treat people suffering from life threatening diseases like cancer, AIDS, diabetes and other diseases at a small  fraction of the cost of patented drugs that were sold in other countries. India became the pharmacy of the developing world. Without the low cost but high quality generic drugs that were manufactured by Indian pharmaceutical companies, the fate of tens of thousands of Earthlings around the world would have been sealed much earlier.

To give some examples, I shall take a few lines from Sarah Hiddleston‘s article in ‘The Frontline’, the link to which has been provided in the first paragraph of this post. Sarah wrote, “Without cheaper alternatives from India, there would be nowhere else to go to buy medicines. According to a study conducted by Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF/Doctors Without Borders), 67 per cent of the medicines produced in India are exported to developing countries; approximately 50 per cent of the medicines distributed by the United Nations Children’s Fund in developing countries come from India; in Zimbabwe, 75 per cent of the tenders for medicines for all public sector health facilities come from Indian manufacturers; the state procurement agency of Lesotho, the National Drug Supply Organisation, states that it buys nearly 95 per cent of all antiretrovirals (ARVs) from India. Even countries that manufacture their own medicines rely on imports of active pharmaceutical ingredients from India.”

Such has been the impact of India’s unique process patent law.

(To be continued)

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7 Responses to Patents versus Patients! (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: oriental medicine blog » Blog Archive » Patents versus Patients! (Part 1)

  2. Raj says:

    Ravi,

    Welcome to this blog, man! I never knew you worked for a pharma company. I thought you were in the IT field.

    Thanks for your valuable comment. I am not in the medical field, but I do get to visit various hospitals (both state run and private) on an almost daily basis due to several reasons. So I am aware of the declining importance given to ethics in the medical field. I get to know of things that only insiders would be aware of.

    Yes, there are problems with the top management of almost every company or government. And there seems to be no solution available at the moment.

    Thanks for stopping by, man! I am still working on the second (and maybe third) parts of this article as I had to concentrate on other things.

  3. Ravi says:

    Raj

    I liked your article on patenting generic drugs. I worked in this really big pharmaceutical company who got clients like pfizer, Galxosmithkline, Bayers….from more than 100 countries. India is doing exceptionally well with pharmaceuticals and the proof is the number of approvals for ANDAs filed in recent years and the number of drugs and production plants got USFDA approval. This is a very good sign for our economy. But I m concerned about the pollution these plants produce. The company I worked with DUMPED poisonous chemicals into sea. Since the management is reluctant to spend $$$ on effluent treatment which eventually increases the production cost there by the price of the drug. I don’t know how could one can balance this situation.😦

  4. Raj says:

    Liber,

    Thanks. I want the benefits of medical and pharmaceutical research to reach even the poorest of the poor. If profit becomes the only motive, then it is a real shame.

    I have not finished the second part of this post as I had to write about other issues. Also, this topic needs a bit more careful reading since it involves a lot of technicalities as the stupid law is involved here. The law and any other concept that does not benefit ALL of humankind is stupid and indeed, EVIL!

  5. Liber Augest says:

    Very nice post😉 Added to favourites.

  6. Pingback: lesotho agency on the

  7. elementaryteacher says:

    Raj,

    I would like to know if the pharmaceutical companies in India are funded partly by the government.

    I think in America they are mostly/wholly privately funded. Thus, the costs of research of new drugs, and extensive drug trials to pass the FDA approval process are wholly borne by the pharmaceutical company. The patents are like intellectual property (does India believe in intellectual property?) which allow the company both to recuperate its research costs (which takes years) AND to make a significant profit after that, thus providing an incentive to develop new drugs.

    The bad side, is of course the drugs being unaffordable to many people. If the government is subsidizing the production of drugs, and/or they don’t have the expenses associated with the research to FIND the new drug in the FIRST place, this is how India could produce those drugs cheaper. But can India afford to fund the BASIC RESEARCH? (Maybe it can, now, but where are the scientists DEVELOPING the drugs.) The drug companies (of whom I’m not promoting) view what’s going on as STEALING their intellectual property, even if those drugs are produced by a slightly different method (as you mention in Part II).

    I’m afraid I don’t yet have any answers yet to suggest for this dilemma, as I’m not ready to give up my belief in intellectual property rights.

    Best regards,
    Eileen
    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas
    elementaryteacher.wordpress.com

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