- Flickr, sparktography
The Indian Supreme Court has rejected a drug patent application by the international pharmaceutical firm Novartis, an event that merited coverage by the New York Times, BBC and many other media – news which you might think is mostly a matter for the business page or drug industry insiders.
In fact, the case may represent one of the most difficult dilemmas in global health. It is a fight that is far from over.
The Indian high court’s legal resolution (or perhaps ‘latest phase’) of this long-running battle between the Indian government and Novartis, as I wrote about last October in a post called Patents vs the Poor, is regarded on all sides as representing much more than what Novartis can charge for the particular cancer drug, Gleevec (or Glivec), at issue.
What’s at stake is one of global health’s most difficult balancing acts – how to expand access of life-saving medicines to the poor while also protecting the legitimate interests of the drug industry when it comes to patent protection and intellectual property. The high court’s decision is being reported as a victory of the generic drug industry, which is big in India, over Western drug makers. As the New York Times put it:
On the one hand, it will help maintain India’s role as the world’s most important provider of cheap medicines, which is critical in the global fight against HIV/AIDS and other diseases…. On the other hand, the ruling could cost lives in the future. Drug company executives and others argue that India’s failure to grant patents for critical medicines … is a shortsighted strategy that undermines a vital system for funding new discoveries.
That’s what Novartis’ head of corporate research, Paul Herrling, told me:
- Paul Herrling
“If a breakthrough compound like this cannot be patented in India, that has major consequences for innovation in India and elsewhere,” said Paul Herrling. “This isn’t really about Gleevec … This is just one part of a much larger issue.” Continue reading