NOVARTIS VERSUS INDIA, HEARING POSTPONED
The hearing at the high court of Chennai involving the Swiss Pharmaceutical company Novartis against the Indian government has been postponed to March 26. The trial has drawn attention because of the important consequences the ruling could have on the production of generic drugs, which India supplies in large quantities to developing countries. Novartis has appealed a decision by the Indian patent office to reject the renewal of the patent for Glivec, an anti-Leukemia drug that it claims to have improved. But according to the recent Indian patent law, the renewal would ensure the company’s rights over the drug for a further 20 years and it can only be given in cases where the drug has been fundamentally altered for the better or in case of new therapeutic applications. The patent cannot be given for ‘banal improvements’ as seems to be the case for Glivec. Novartis claims that patents should be renewed for ‘gradual innovations’ also. “What concerns us the most - said Claudia Bannella, spokesperson for Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) – is that Norvatis, is not only challenging the decision over the drug in question, it is challenging the entire side of Indian law that pursues a balance between the rights of companies and those of patients and that it contravenes the international accords on intellectuals property (TRIPS) at the WTO. MSF disagrees. It says Indian Law is in line with clauses and concerning international drug sales and rules from the WTO. “While, other norms, EU ones also, authorize patent renewals for minimal changes, distancing the moment of low cost generic drug production - said Bannella - India was the first country to adopt a substantial filter. Should Novartis win its case, it would prevent the Indian example to repeat itself elsewhere”. Before adopting a patent law as required by the WTO, India freely produced generic drugs certified by the WHO, which were largely used in developing countries, especially in fighting such diseases as AIDS. MSF has appealed to Novartis shareholders, who were meeting in Basel on Tuesday, such that the company drops its lawsuit against the government of India. MSF has issued an international petition signed by 350,000 people.