Seeking to keep the price of a cancer drug affordable for masses, activists from several countries Monday gathered here and asked Swiss pharmaceutical major Novartis to withdraw its case against the Indian government that has not granted patent to its anti-cancer medicine.
"India produces affordable medicines that help millions of people both here and in many other developing countries. A patent grant to Novartis on Gleevec will certainly make cancer medicine unaffordable for the poor," said Amit Sengupta, joint convenor of the PEOPLE'S Health Movement.
"While a generic drug for cancer costs Rs.8,000 for one month of treatment, Gleevec costs Rs.120,000. If Novartis gets the patent, then generic drugs will not be available in market," Sengupta told reporters.
In May 2006, Novartis had filed two cases against the government of India and the Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA) challenging the rejection of its patent application under the Indian Patent Law.
The company's application for a patent on Gleevec was opposed by the CPAA and subsequently rejected by the Chennai patent office in January 2006.
The application was rejected as it claimed Gleevec to be only a new form of an old drug and not an invention.
Unni Karunakara, medical director of the Medicins Sans Frontieres, a Netherlands-headquartered organisation, said that India is the main supplier of essential medicines for developing countries. Sixty-seven percent of the medicines produced in India are exported to developing countries, he said.
"A patent grant to Novartis will not only affect people in India but also millions of people in developing countries. It will set a wrong precedent for frivolous applicants to get patent by just tinkering molecules. Innovations of drugs will become difficult," Karunakara said.
"General public cannot afford the second line drugs as their cost will increase between seven to 30 times," he added.
Michel Lotrowski, a Brazilian activist, said Novartis was embarking on sheer profiteering without even thinking of public health conditions.
K.M. Gopakumar, a member of the Centre for Trade and Development, said Novartis had challenged Section 3-D of the Indian Patent Act that dismisses frivolous patent applications as incongruous.
"Does the multinational want to say that the Indian government should frame law keeping in mind Novartis' profit motive? Can't we stop frivolous patent applications from seeing light?" Gopakumar asked.