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01 APR 2013

India’s landmark ruling on drug patent puts human rights before excessive profits, says Oxfam

International agency 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 Nisha Agrawal, Chief Executive of Oxfam India.

The ruling allows Indian makers of generic medicines to continue making affordable versions of the medicine, which is used to treat chronic myeloid leukaemia, a form of cancer that kills 80-90 per cent of sufferers.

“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,” said Agrawal.

Currently, Glivec is priced at US$2,200 for a monthly dosage. Today’s ruling will make way for generic version of the medicine which will cost about US$184 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.

“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,” said Agrawal.

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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About Oxfam
Oxfam is dedicated to fighting poverty and inequity worldwide. The international and independent development and humanitarian organisation tackles poverty in four main ways: sustainable development in poor communities, disaster relief, local, national and global advocacy, and education with Hong Kong youth. Established in Hong Kong in 1976, Oxfam Hong Kong is a founding member of Oxfam, an international confederation that has assisted poor people in 94 countries. Oxfam Hong Kong alone has supported poor people in over 70 countries/regions.