Novartis vs. Government of India

Posted: Thursday, September 8, 2011 | Posted by Debajyoti Datta |


From 6th September onwards, a very important case is being heard in the Supreme Court. It concerns two parties, the drug manufacturing giant Novartis and the government of India but the outcome of this case has huge implications for the people of India and of other low income countries.

Imatinib mesylate. From wikimedia

What is the case about?

Novartis wants to obtain a patent on imatinib mesylate, a salt of the drug imatinib used for the treatment of cancers like chronic myeloid leukaemia. Previously, Novartis appealed in the Chennai High Court and the Indian Patent Appelleate Board but the decision was not in their favour. In both the cases, section 3(d) of the Indian Patent Act was cited to show that imatinib mesylate did not show any significant efficacy than that of the original compound although Novartis claimed that it increased the bioavailability of the drug by 30%. Now Novartis is challenging the decision in Supreme Court to obtain a patent.

Why should you be bothered?

If Novartis does not have a patent on the drug, it allows generic manufacturers to produce the drug. Competition in the generic market drives the price of the drug down and you and I can afford to buy the drug should we need it. If Novartis succeeds in getting a patent, it gains a monopoly on the drug and no other company can produce it unless authorized by Novartis. This is a common tactic used by pharmaceutical companies to maximize their profit, called evergreening. If Novartis is successful in getting a patent, this will set a precedent, all the other companies too will file for patents and will ultimately drive up the cost of life saving medicines.

Médecins Sans Frontières, an international humanitarian organization has already spoken up against this, saying that this will drive up the cost of medicine in low income countries to whom they supply drugs which they buy from generic Indian manufacturers

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