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India’s Supreme Court rejects Novartis patent claim

Novartis

Health rights activists hail judgment as a major victory for the world wide campaign for affordable medicines

By Team FI

In a landmark judgment the Supreme Court of India rejected Novartis AG’s plea to patent its cancer drug, Glivec. The drug was developed in the 1990s and is considered beneficial for treating chronic myeloid leukemia and gastrointestinal tumors.

The Swiss company’s legal fight began after the Chennai patent controller rejected its application for a patent for Glivec in 2006. According to health rights activists, Novartis tried to get an Indian patent for a ‘new’ version of the drug which was just the same old molecule with a tiny cosmetic change. India’s patent law applies strict standards for granting patents.

Glivec costs INR 120,000 (around USD 2400) per dose. This judgment opens the door for generic production of the drug and the generic version is expected to be at least 95% cheaper. The court decision is also expected to facilitate early entry of generic medicines into the market for other diseases too. India’s generic drug industry supplies much of the cheap medicine used in the developing world.

Rejoicing at the decision, Mr. Y. K. Sapru of the Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA), which had opposed Novartis’ patent application, said, “Our access to affordable treatment will not be possible if the medicines are patented. This judgment is a huge victory for human rights.”

According to Anand Grover of the Lawyers Collective, who had represented the CPAA in the court, the ruling “gives life to Parliament’s intent of facilitating access to medicines and of incentivizing only genuine research”.

The judgment is considered to be a great boost for India’s health rights movement. A similar case is being fought in the Supreme Court by activists who are campaigning for affordable Trastuzumab drug. In another boost to India’s health rights movement, the Supreme Court admitted a public interest writ petition against licensing and trials of cervical cancer vaccines in January this year.