Millennium Post

SC denies cancer drug patent to Novartis

In a judgement hailed as ‘historic’ by the government, the Supreme Court on Monday dismissed the patent plea by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis AG on a life-saving cancer drug Glivec

This decision is being considered a benchmark for intellectual property cases in India, particularly in the healthcare sector, where many of the highly-priced patented drugs remain unaffordable for a majority of India’s 1.2 billion people.

The apex court verdict, which came after a seven-year-long battle, has been welcomed by all sections of society, including the health sector activists who say the judgement will protect right to medical care by availing cheap generic drugs that have the potential to save millions of lives in developing nations.

Novartis AG had been fighting a legal war with Indian authorities to gain patent protection for a slightly refurbished version of its blockbuster blood cancer drug Glivec. The pharma company had asserted that the newer modified compound was a ‘significant improvement’ over the previous one as it was more easily absorbed by the human body, However, the Supreme Court dismissed the claim saying that the updated compound ‘did not satisfy the test of novelty or inventiveness’ required by the Indian legislation.

At the heart of this legal battle over contentious patent laws, lay vested interests of multinational pharmaceutical companies, according to Anand Grover, the advocate arguing the case against the Swiss firm. ‘Novartis has been trying to water down Section 3(d) of the Indian Patents Act. Supreme Court has rejected their attempt. This judgement will allow generic medicine industry to continue and patients will be able to access affordable medicines.’

Novartis AG’s pleas had been earlier rejected by the Madras High Court in 2007 and the Intellectual Property Appellate in 2009. The Supreme Court judgement is the last nail on the coffin, which effectively seals the deal for Indian indigenous healthcare sector, that manufactures and sells generic drugs at substantially lower cost.

While the Supreme Court verdict is good news for domestic drugmakers such as Ranbaxy, Cipla and others, the Western pharmaceutical companies have claimed that the decision will adversely impact research and development into life-saving drugs and is also likely to negatively impact foreign direct investment in healthcare sector in India.
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