Landmark generic medicines victory: Ruling puts human rights before excessive profits says Oxfam

Posted by Sarah Dransfield Senior Press Officer

2nd Apr 2013

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 Oxfam India's CEO Nisha Agrawal.

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 around £1450 (120,000 Indian rupees) for a monthly dosage. Today's ruling will make way for generic version of the medicine which will cost about £120 (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.

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For further inquiry, please contact:

Sarah Dransfield, Oxfam press Officer, on 01865 472269, 07767 085636 or email sdransfield@oxfam.org.uk

Notes to editors:

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. 

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

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 the Novartis case was putting India's future as the 'pharmacy of the developing world' at stake. If the case had been successful the result would have meant delays in competition for all medicines produced, which would have pushed prices up and had a significant impact on public health.

Blog post written by Sarah Dransfield

Senior Press Officer

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