Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis is currently pursuing a legal case against the Indian government which fundamentally threatens the supply of affordable medicines from India to the developing world. The Stop AIDS Campaign, as part of a global movement of activists and civil society organisations, have been campaigning for Novartis to drop the case.
In 2006 India rejected a patent claim for a cancer drug, imatinib mesylate. In accordance with international trade rules, India developed a strong patent law – section 3(d) – in order to protect public health. Under section 3(d) India will not grant a patent on a drug that is deemed to be a slight modification on an existing version unless there is clear evidence that the innovation will deliver improved health outcomes for patients. This is a process known as ‘evergreening’ which is used by pharmaceutical companies to extend the patent life on drugs . As imatinib mesylate was a salt version of an existing cancer drug it was thus denied a patent. (Watch this helpful MSF animation for more detail on the ‘evergreening’ process.)
Since the original court case to overturn this decision was denied, Novartis have appealed to the Indian Supreme Court in an attempt to weaken this patent law. Following many postponements and delays, this court case is now set to open on 11th September 2012. (This information was updated on 22nd August).
Although about a cancer drug, the result of this case will have a much wider impact on health of poor people all around the world. If they win, the change will make it easier for drug companies to get unjustifiable extensions to their monopolies, and make it much more difficult for generic companies to produce and sell the affordable generic medicines health care providers across the developing world rely on.
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