Landmark generic medicines victory

Published: 1st April 2013

Ruling puts human rights before excessive profits

International agency Oxfam has hailed the Indian Supreme Court’s ruling against a patent protection petition filed by multinational pharmaceutical company Novartis as a huge victory for public health.

By dismissing the Novartis application which was seeking to patent the anti-cancer medicine Glivec, the Court “has put public health before commercial profits” said Nisha Agrawal, CEO of Oxfam India.

The ruling allows Indian makers of generic medicines to continue making affordable versions of the medicine, used to treat chronic myeloid leukaemia, which kills 80-90 per cent of sufferers.

Agrawal said: “We’re not against companies making profits, but against companies charging exorbitant amounts for life-saving medicines in the name of patents. Patenting this medicine would have defeated the very purpose of it – to treat patients’ suffering from cancer. This important medicine would be of no use to cancer survivors if they can’t afford to buy it.”

Currently, Glivec is priced at $2200 (120,000 Indian rupees) for a monthly dosage. Today’s ruling will make way for generic version of the medicine which will cost about $184 (Rs.10,000) a month – more than 90 per cent cheaper than the patented version. However, even the generic version may still not be affordable to millions of patients in India where health expenditure is one of the most important reasons for indebtedness.

Agrawal said: “This ruling is cause for celebration. It should put an end to companies’ challenge of the Indian patent law and attempts to evergreen their patents.”

Medicine patent evergreening is an important strategy that multinational pharmaceutical companies use to extend excessive profits from so-called “blockbuster” medicines for as long as possible. Medicine companies try to extend the patent by slightly modifying the formulation of existing medicines.

The Court has put public health before commercial profits.
Nisha Agrawal
Chief Executive Offier, Oxfam India

Contact information

In Washington: Caroline Hooper-Box
+1 202 496 1173
+1 202 321 2967

In New Delhi: Krishnaswamy Kannan

+91 11 4653 8000
+91 1146538099

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