HIV/AIDS Advocacy Groups File Opposition to Gilead’s Request for Patent on Tenofovir in India
The HIV/AIDS advocacy groups Delhi Network of Positive People and Indian Network for People Living With HIV/AIDS on Tuesday filed an opposition application with the New Delhi patent office to oppose Gilead's application to patent its antiretroviral drug Viread, known generically as tenofovir, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports (AP/Houston Chronicle, 5/10). India's generic drug industry has made less expensive medications available in India and abroad for more than 30 years. However, India's Parliament last year -- in order to bring the country in line with a World Trade Organization agreement on intellectual property that it signed in 1994 -- changed the country's patent laws to prohibit the domestic production of low-cost, generic versions of patented medicines, including antiretroviral drugs. The measure does not eliminate the supply of existing generic drugs, but it requires generic drug makers that want to continue production to pay royalties to the manufacturers of drugs currently under patent (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/24/05). The patent opposition application was filed on behalf of the groups by the Alternative Law Forum (Datta, Hindu Business Line, 5/11). The Indian generic drug company Cipla -- which produces a generic form of tenofovir called tenvir -- also has filed a challenge to Gilead's patent application (MacRae, AFP/Yahoo! News, 5/11). Gilead's tenofovir in Western countries costs $5,718 annually per person, and tenvir costs $700 annually per person in India. Tenvir would be removed from the market for 12 years if Gilead is awarded a patent, the New York Times reports (Gentleman/Kumar, New York Times, 5/12). Cipla Chair Yusuf Hamied said India's new patent law says that drug compounds known before 1995 do not have the "novelty" required for patent protection (AFP/Yahoo! News, 5/11). ALF says that Viread is not a new drug because Gilead added only the salt (fumaric acid) to the existing compound tenofovir, the Times of India reports (Raaj, Times of India, 5/11). The international medical treatment group Medecins Sans Frontieres is providing technical support for the challenge.
Gilead's application prompted a protest by nearly 150 people, some of whom are living with HIV/AIDS, on Wednesday in New Delhi. Police detained and later released 102 of the demonstrators, police officer Parath Singh said (SAPA/Business Day, 5/10). "Granting this patent would set a dangerous precedent," Ellen 't Hoen, director of policy and advocacy for MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, said, adding, "Limiting production of tenofovir and that of other newer essential drugs to a single company keeps prices high because generic competition is blocked" (MSF release, 5/10). Gilead in a statement said it disagrees with statements that Viread should not be patented and "believe[s] that Viread represents innovation and is patentable under Indian law." Gilead added that it will "use this patent responsibly" and will not "block access to medication ... in India or in other resource-limited countries where the HIV epidemic has hit the hardest" (Gilead statement, 5/10).