Novartis launch renewed attack on India’s right to produce affordable medicines

Pharmaceutical giant Novartis is back in court this week, in a renewed attempt to block India’s right to produce affordable ‘generic’ versions of the company’s branded medicines.

The hearing, in the Indian Supreme Court, comes six years after Novartis first lost its battle to stop India producing copies of anti-cancer medicine Glivec (or Gleevec in the USA), which cost as much as ten times less than the original. Now Novartis are trying to find a loophole that would delay the ability of Indian drug companies to produce cheaper medicines, which supply most of the developing world.

The complicated legal wrangle over how India implements specific patent rules could set a groundbreaking legal precedent. If Novartis wins the case, similar claims for other medicines pending in court could go in favor of drug companies rather than the people whose lives depend on affordable generic drugs.

A source of life saving medication for millions

Oxfam Policy Advisor, Rohit Malpani, said: “Despite the fact Novartis has lost before, the company seems hell bent on pursuing this case and is determined to win a precedent, even though it could have a devastating impact on millions of people in developing countries.”

Generic medicines produced in India are among the cheapest in the world, and are the main source of life saving medication for millions. 90 per cent of medicines used to treat HIV/AIDS are currently made in India, but Novartis is putting India’s future as the ‘pharmacy of the developing world’ at stake. If the case is successful the result would mean delays in competition for all medicines produced, which would push prices up and have a significant impact on public health.

Malpani said: “This legal battle is a massive threat to those suffering from cancer, HIV and AIDS, diabetes and other diseases who are too poor to pay for medication.

Patients’ rights first

“India is setting a brave example for other developing countries, by standing firm under pressure from multinational drugs companies by putting patients’ rights first. The case must rule in favor of people not profits.”

Oxfam was part of a global campaign in 2006 calling on Novartis to put people before profits, which was backed by half a million people.

Related links

Blog: Robbing the poor to pay the rich – Novartis’ Christmas gift to itself! (Dec. 2008)

Video: Free medicines in Rajasthan, India (Feb. 2012) 

Stop AIDS Campaign animation explains the 'patent pool'

Notes to editors

In 2006, Novartis launched a legal battle challenging India's adoption of strict standards used to regulate patents on medicines. They argued that Section 3(d) of the recently amended Patents Act was ‘unconstitutional and violated international standards’ and wanted a 20-year patent monopoly on Glivec. The company is now challenging the established interpretation of Section (d) which requires a minor variation to previously invented medicines not be granted unless it significantly enhances the efficiency of the medicine in treating human illness or disease.

Contact information

For more information, or to arrange an interview with an Oxfam spokesperson, please contact:

Sarah Dransfield, Oxfam press Officer: +44 (0)1865 472269, +44 (0)7767 085666, sdransfield@oxfam.org.uk, twitter: @SarahOxfam