Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations
Lack of Drug Patent Protection in India Allows Local Companies to Produce Affordable Drugs, Compete with Multinationals, ‘NewsHour’ Reports
Indian drug companies are able to legally reverse engineer and copy the latest medicines due to a 1970 patent law placing the nation's interests ahead of profit, PBS's "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" reported yesterday. Prior to the passage of the patent law, India was in a "desperate public health situation"; life expectancy was "barely 40 years" and the nation, "the poorest country in the world," had "the highest prices of drugs." Davinder Brar, CEO of the Indian drug company Ranbaxy, said, "The real intention of the policymakers was to develop a world-class pharmaceutical industry which can cater to the needs of the country from its home base and not rely on imports. And that objective has been very largely met." However, multinational pharmaceutical companies claim that the Indian companies are stealing "from their ... coffers." PhRMA CEO Alan Holmer said, "While we're all very concerned about access to medicines on an affordable basis, you can never have access to medicines unless those medicines are discovered in the first place. You cannot build a sustainable health care system on the basis of stolen ideas." Holmer argued that the "cheap knockoff drugs" can actually hurt India and questioned the "quality and effectiveness of the medicines." However, many Indian companies are inspected by the FDA because of the "billions of dollars each year in generic drugs" that these companies export to the American market, NewsHour reports. Amar Lulla, codirector of Cipla, an Indian drug maker that recently offered price cuts on HIV drugs to non-governmental organizations and African nations, blames the high cost of drugs on patents. "Today in Africa ... millions are dying, and nobody cares a damn. I mean, the patents have to override the human suffering, you know? And I believe this exemplifies what patents do. What we're saying is that by all means the innovators should be rewarded. ... But don't have [a] monopoly." Dr. Amit Sengupta, a critic of the Indian companies, rejected the idea that the companies "are somehow altruistic compared to the multinationals." He said, "They have been in this business to make profits, and there are innumerable instances where they've been producing drugs which we think are irrational, they've been producing drugs which are inessential, they have tried to jack up prices. We have always said that in terms of the issue of prices, multinational corporations and the Indian companies have not been very different." Any differences between Indian and multinational pharmaceutical companies will narrow even more after 2005, when India's entrance into the World Trade Organization will force the country to restore patent protection, "NewsHour" reports (Lazaro, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 3/15).
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