People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXI

No. 06

February 11, 2007

Novartis Case: Assault on the Patents Act

 

The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) issued the following statement on February 2, 2007. 

 

THE CPI(M) calls upon the Central government to vigorously defend the Indian Patents Act in the Indian court against the assault by Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical multinational company, in the Gleevec case.

 

The CPI(M) and Left parties in Parliament were able to introduce a number of safeguards in the Amended Patents Act that India was forced to adopt in 2005 in order to make the Act TRIPS compliant. At the instance of the Left parties, important public health safeguards were introduced that are now clearly emerging as targets of attacks by the pharmaceutical MNCs. The recent Novartis challenge in Chennai High Court of one such section of the Amended Patents Act in the Gleevec case is a precursor to more challenges that are likely to be filed as the Indian Patents Office rejects a number of similar patent applications.

Gleevec, a vital anti leukaemia drug, is a test case for the Indian Patents Act. If the Gleevec patent were accepted, then it would cost Rs. 1,20,000 for a month's medicine as against the indigenous cost of only Rs. 8,000. In the Gleevec case, the Swiss multinational Novartis, had filed a patent application for a slightly modified version of a drug that they had patented in 1993. The
section of the Indian Patents Act (Section 3(d)) which prevents frivolous patents based on small tinkering on existing molecules has now been challenged by Novartis in the Chennai High Court.


A number of second line AIDS drugs were also known before 1995 and therefore cannot be granted patents in India. However, drug MNCs are trying to patent them by offering two drugs as a mixture or claiming new use or in a new form, some of the common tricks in "evergreening" old patents. If Section 3 (d) is removed or diluted as the drug majors are asking, these tactics may work and a major public health protection in India would then be breached. This will result in price of AIDS medicines becoming 20-50 times their current value, as more and more patients shift to second line AIDS drugs. As India is the major source of AIDS medicines today, this would have a worldwide impact.

 

The drug majors are also mischievously trying to confuse the existing 3 (d) provisions of the Act with Mashelkar Committee's report on New Pharmaceutical or Chemical Entities. The Left parties had asked that in addition to 3 (d), patents for pharmaceuticals should be restricted to only new chemical or pharmaceutical entities. While CPI(M) completely disagrees with Mashelkar Committee's recommendations on the above and also on micro-organisms, this has nothing to do with Section 3 (d) of the existing Act.

 

The CPI(M) calls upon the Indian Government to vigorously defend the Indian Patents Act in the Indian courts and also in international platforms. They cannot be allowed to compromise the interests of the patients suffering from life threatening diseases such as leukaemia and AIDS. The government while defending the Act in court should also use international platforms to mobilize opinion against the greed for profits by such pharmaceutical companies.