Friday, August 25, 2006


Patent on Cancer drug opposed

The success of activists in forcing GlaxoSmithKline to withdraw the patent application for its HIV/AIDS drug combivir in India is now spurring on others.

Cancer patients and non-government organisations have decided to rally against Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, which has filed a case in Madras high court, asking that it be granted a patent for the crucial cancer drug, Gleevec.

Cancer patients have come together against the firm, arguing that such a move would threaten future access to affordable medicines. On May 19, 2006, Novartis had filed seven cases in the court, against the government, Cancer Patients Aid Association and generic manufacturers, challenging the rejection of its Gleevec patent application. Gleevec is used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia, a life threatening form of cancer. It is a $2.2 billion drug, posting double-digit growth figures.

The drug helps in prolonging the life of cancer patients. Several Indian pharma firms like Natco, Cipla, Ranbaxy and Hetero produce the generic equivalent.
While Gleevec sells for around Rs 1.2 lakh per patient per month, a generic drug costs Rs 9,000 per patient per month.

In 1998, Novartis had filed its first application for a patent on Gleevec. It had applied for exclusive marketing rights (EMR). Based on application and a provision of Indian Patents Act, Novartis in 2003 obtained an EMR for five years.

Several cancer groups including Cancer Patients Aid Association challenged the move, arguing that patient's access to generic Gleevec would be affected as a consequence of the EMR.
Moreover, they held that Gleevec contains b-crystalline form of the compound Imatinib Meyslate and according to the protesters, it was no different from the existing generic compounds to warrant a patent.

In January 2006, Chennai patent office rejected the patent application on the ground that the application claimed 'only a new form of an old drug' and rejected its patentability. With Novartis filing a fresh patent application, activist groups are concerned now.

"India, which is turning out to be a beacon of hope for natins like Korea in its supply of generic medicines, is having to fight a battle on its own turf," an official, Medicines Sans Frontiers said.

Amrita Nair-Ghaswalla,curpg-2.cms

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