India has always been a thorn for big pharmaceutical companies from the developed nations. Indian pharmas have been re-engineering drugs for years, thanks to the lack of patent protection in India. This has led to India becoming the leading manufacturer of generic drugs around the world. While patent laws did come into effect in 2005, the WTO-TRIPS agreement gave developing nations’ governments the right to hand out ‘compulsory licences’ that will allow local companies to re-engineer and sell drugs manufactured at cut-price costs.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will  hear final arguments for a path-breaking case that has the potential to reshape the country’s healthcare sector and perhaps curb its global role in producing cut-price generic drugs. The hearing pits Swiss pharma Novartis AG against the Indian Government’s patent office. The patent office refused to grant the company’s cancer drug Glivec a patent on the grounds that it’s not a new medicine but an amended version of an older compound.

The patent will give Novartis exclusive marketing rights and prevent Indian companies from producing cheaper generic versions. These companies are responsible for providing these drugs to not only Indians but other developing nations as well.  

While Western firms see India as a potential market with its rapidly growing economy, they are wary of the country’s laws which don’t protect intellectual property rights. Big Pharma critics on the other hand feel a win would jeopardise the supply of cheap generic drugs to millions in India and abroad, since India is the leading exporter of cheap generic drugs. ”The stakes are very high on both sides,” said Leena Menghaney, a manager in New Delhi for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which relies on Indian-made generic drugs to treat AIDS and other diseases in Africa and many poor countries. 

Novartis’ drug it is sold under the trade name Gleevec and can cost $70,000 a year. Patients take one or two pills a day, depending on the dosage. If the Indian government does bow down to Novartis it could be a serious blow to India’s image as the ‘pharmacy capital of the world’ and the role it plays worldwide in championing generic drugs.


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  • crim

    That’s true – MNCs that can influence MHRA/FDA, Indian politicians eating up money so India never has R & D to manufacture new drugs it patented after indigenous development in a millenium from now and unending poverty of the electorate that has to be sustained for the greedy to amass wealth to ‘develop’ India – what else do we need? Something like the French revolution around the inflation?

  • Gunasekhar

    “thanks to the lack of patent protection in India” – who ever wrote this b.**.s**t should first be educated. More than 90% of Indians are poor and they depend on the cheap generic medicine. Apart from that the remaining world’s poor is also depending on the generic medicine produced in India. These big pharma companies’ only motivation is to make money and they don’t care about the people. If someone wants to know the fact, then go visit any corporate cancer clinics in any city. Even the rich can’t afford the sustainable cancer treatment in India.

    If the verdict goes against Indian Govt. then the citizens’ right to live, granted by the constitution will be skewed. Hope the court will think in all aspects and help the poor live.

  • sunder lohia

    Govt. of India is bound to protect the lives of it’s citizens under right to life guranted by the constitution of India. All our international agreements are to be viewed within this framework. We can not sacrifice our people to satisfy the greed of companies.

  • prasad

    “thanks to the lack of patent protection in India” ??

    This gives a very slanted view of the issue. On the other hand, India’s patent system is different from American system. And this case highlights everything that is wrong with the American patent system which allows these greedy drug firms to perpetuate their exclusive marketing rights by making small amendments over the previous patent for the same drug.

  • captainjohann

    Novartis and other big Drug MNCs have 20 years to save their research costs many times over and also earn huge profits. But these greedy MNCs will do ” ever greening” to garner more profits at human lives.They use this argument that it is used for treatment of another disease and also tweak the molecule a bit to say this is a NDA.They have so much clout in WHO/FDA that even Clozapine which is discovered by Novartis is not in the WHO essential drug list.These guys influence American election and Indian courts are small fry.