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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Drug patenting of lifesaving drugs to affect the supply and cost

A long running legal battle in India over drug patents could impact access to affordable, lifesaving drugs to millions of people across the globe.
The case is being seen as a high stakes battle between drug companies supporting intellectual property rights and those who favor the production of cheap, generic drugs.
Dr. Suniti Solomon has treated thousands of men and women suffering from HIV at her clinic in the southern city of Chennai since she detected India’s first AIDS infection 25 years ago. Affordable copies of brand name drugs produced by India’s booming generic drug industry have helped her patients enormously. Like the patients in Chennai, these generic drugs are a lifeline for millions of people in Africa and other developing countries.
Many of them are not aware of it, but a case pending before the Indian Supreme Court could have a far reaching impact on their access to these inexpensive drugs.
It involves a legal challenge by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis to India’s refusal to grant a patent for a medicine used to treat leukemia. It has been winding its way through the Indian courts for almost six years. Final arguments will be heard next month.
ndia denied a patent for Gleevec saying that it is not a new medicine but a salt formulation of a known drug. India does not allow companies to patent modifications of an old medicine unless its efficacy is significantly improved.
Forty countries, including the United States, China and Russia, have granted a patent for Gleevec. But in India, its generic version is being produced at a fraction of the cost.
Health activists fear that a ruling in favor of Novartis may drastically reduce the global supply of inexpensive, generic drugs being used to treat people suffering from deadly diseases. They say if costs rise greatly, voluntary groups across the world will have to significantly scale down programs assisting patients who cannot afford lifesaving medicines.

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