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A victory for Novartis against the Indian Patent Office which is being heard in the Supreme Court will have serious ramifications. Not only will it challenge India's position as the champion of generic drugs but health campaigners feel it will be akin to handing a death sentence to the poor and ill in third-world countries. Many developing nations are dependent on Indian pharmaceuticals for their drugs.
Leena Menghaney, Access Campaign India coordinator at Medecins Sans Frontier said, "The current court case is related to the kind of drug which should be granted patent in India. If more MNC drugs secure patent rights in India, it would directly impact the local production. Patents are generally related to the monopoly rights. Indian companies can't make an affordable (generic) version of these innovator drugs and hence one has to get dependant on the particular company and it's pricing. If the decision goes in favor of Novartis, it will have a huge impact on the generic production. It will reduce the ability of Indian companies to make drugs in India and supply them to government of India. However, it will also hamper them to supply to other developing countries. Moreover, it will have an adverse impact on the access to treatment."
Novartis is seeking an Indian patent for its leukaemia drug imatinib mesylate, which has been patented as 'Glivec' in nearly 40 countries including China, Russia, Mexico, Taiwan, Germany and the UK, and as 'Gleevec' in the United States.
According to Ranjit Shahani, the Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of Novartis India, the legal move by the company is "about protecting intellectual property to advance the practice of medicine, not about changing access to medicines". Earlier, the patent office in India had refused to grant a patent for Novartis' cancer drug Glivec, because it said that it is not a new medicine but a changed version of a known compound. Currently, India produces about one-fifth of the world's generic drugs, particularly for HIV-AIDS, half of which are sent abroad.
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