Millennium Post

The lone crusader against Big Pharma

Harassment of the domestic Indian pharmaceutical sector by the powerful US companies is an old problem which has assumed a far more draconian measure in recent times. Despite the significant victory of Indian generic drug companies over the international, mostly US-driven, Big Pharma lobby in April last year, when the Supreme Court ruled against Swiss giant Novartis AG and disallowed continual patenting of crucial cancer drugs, the West now has once again upped its ante against our healthcare sector. Pharmaceutical lobbies in the US are trying to arm-twist their government into erecting more trade restrictions against India. While the National Association of Manufacturers has lent its overt support, the pharma sector is using its massive clout to pressure the United States Trade Representatives (USTR) into officially branding India as a ‘priority foreign country’ in its 2014 Special 301 Report, which will be announced on 30 April 2014. This unchecked hostility towards generic Indian drugmakers, who form the leading suppliers of low-cost and efficient medicines to most of the developing world, including huge swathes of Asia, Africa and Latin America, is predicated on the Western pharmaceutical MNCs’ fear of losing the enormous medical drugs market to the rising powers, particularly India and Brazil. Not only does the Big Pharma want to flex its considerable muscle to bend the supine government according to its whims and fancies, at the cost of tampering every possible international norms on free and fair trade, it also intends to trip India over flimsy and groundless intellectual property rights issues. In case, the USTR downgrades India as one of the worst IPR offender, trade sanctions would kick in immediately, thereby severely affecting the balance of power and India’s $4.5 billion worth of exports of affordable, life-saving medicines that form the lifeline for the Global South.

Although several organisations, including the human rights medical group Doctors Without Borders, have staunchly criticised the US machinations to strangle the Indian pharma sector, it seems the US government is all set to cower before the naked financial strength of the Big Pharma. Moreover, using the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the US had been carrying on with a uniform 20-year monopoly on worldwide sale of new drugs by the firms innovating them. This extremely unfair law has been met with tremendous resistance from the Indian side and the SC order on Novartis AG was a landmark ruling that prevented MNCs from repatenting the drugs by making minor and utterly cosmetic alterations without fundamentally changing the nature of the medicine. Patenting by powerful drug companies has been a bane for the developing world, where people are still dying of curable diseases. In case, USTR goes ahead and downgrades India, the government can take up the case at WTO and fight out what can prove to be a lengthy yet decisive battle for greater a good. Innovation must not be offered as an excuse to block access.
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