Indian High Court Blocks Novartis Patent Extension for Gleevec

India's highest court has dealt a blow to one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies in that company's bid to extend the patent on its blockbuster anticancer drug.

India's Supreme Court last week rejected the attempt by Novartis to extend the patent in India on their life-saving treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), Glivec (also spelled Gleevec).

Novartis and other pharmaceutical companies tend to extend patent life in various countries by making insignificant changes to their drugs. In doing so they can extend the patent and continue to maintain control over the market by blocking the arrival of cheaper generics.

Pratibha Singh, a lawyer for one of India's generic firms, told reporters following the verdict: "Patents will be given only for genuine inventions, and repetitive patents will not be given for minor tweaks to an existing drug."

Generic form reduces cost to patients

The decision by the Supreme Court is a boon for India's massive $26 billion generic drug industry, which can produce a generic form of Gleevec for one-tenth of what Novartis charges, dramatically reducing patient costs and making the drug available to a significantly wider patient population.

Meanwhile, Novartis is not taking the ruling lightly, going as far as calling it "a setback for patients." However, they do not mean a setback for CML patients, but a setback for other patients on whom the company asserts it would spend the revenues they make off Gleevec developing new treatments.

It remains unclear why those treatments or those future patients ought to be beholden to India's CML patients, or why Novartis feels that this is how that research ought to be funded.

India now unattractive to pharmaceutical companies

The vice chairman and managing director of Novartis India, Ranjit Shahani, went as far as saying that the ruling made India a very unattractive market to pharmaceutical companies in which to make major investments:

This ruling will hinder medical progress for diseases without effective treatment options ... Novartis will not invest in drug research in India. Not only Novartis, I don’t think any global company is planning to research in India.

The ruling ends a court case that has been active since 2006.

Source: AP

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