Friday, June 22, 2007

Novartis versus the cancer patients of India

In our continuing coverage of pharmaceutical companies' misdeeds, for a change it isn't Pfizer that is on today's menu but Novartis.

By Rasha (Saudi Arabia)
Saturday, June 16th, 2007
Swiss “Novartis” is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Novartis has launched two law suits against India’s government after the country refused to grant a patent for (Glivec) a new form of the original compound of an anti-cancer medicine. Novartis is challenging not just the Glivec decision, but also a section of India’s patent law designed to promote cheaper generic medicines for poor patients who cannot afford patented medicines.

The law allows India to refuse a patent for an existing medicine that has been slightly modified. In countries such as the US, companies have modified medicines then re-patented them to extend their monopoly and keep generic competition off the market. India’s law ensures that this practice – called “ever-greening” – would not block access to affordable generics.

India changed its Patents Act in early 2005 to meet its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization, India adopted a new patent law that lets drug companies seek patents on medicines invented after 1995 or for new and more efficacious versions of older drugs. The government tried to ensure that medicines that were not innovative, were not granted patents. Novartis is pressuring India to eliminate a perfectly legal public health safeguard.

If Novartis succeeds, additional patents are likely to happen, resulting in further restrictions on the production of generic drugs in India and causing high prices for newer medicines. India’s generic medicine industry is often called “the pharmacy to the developing world” because it produces quality drugs at dramatically more affordable prices.
If Novartis succeeds, drug prices will rise, and people will suffer greatly,” said Vineeta Gupta of SHAII (Stop HIV/AIDS in India Initiative). “Novartis should be ashamed.”
Oxfam says that India’s law reflects an important public health safeguard that was agreed at the World Trade Organization. No country has challenged the legality of India’s law at the WTO.

Most AIDS treatment programmes throughout the world rely on generic antiretroviral (ARV) medicines made in India, including more than 80% of the 80,000 patients treated by Doctors Without Borders in more than 30 countries.
And 70% of the ARVs purchased by UNICEF, the International Dispensary Association, the UN Global Fund, and the Clinton Foundation to treat patients in 87 developing countries come from generic Indian sources as well.
Generic competition is what brought prices down for antiretroviral (ARV) medicines for people living with HIV/AIDS from a staggering $10,000 to $136 a year.

Novartis must drop its controversial court case against India which started in Jan 29th/2007, says international agency Oxfam.
If Novartis wins its case, a lot of patients in developing countries, especially those suffering from HIV/AIDS, who mainly rely on affordable drugs from India, would not have access anymore to drugs, It is unacceptable that commercial interests of a company comes before the general health’s interests and the right of states to protect and promote public health.

Arguements on this case have been heard and judgement is expected in the following weeks, if you care about medication reaching and saving HIV/AIDS patients check this site (you can add your name)

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