Indian Court Reserves Verdict in Case Against Country’s Drug Patents Act
A two-judge panel of a court in Chennai, India, on Wednesday reserved its verdict in a case brought by pharmaceutical company Novartis against a section of India's Patents Act that aims to restrict certain kinds of patents, Forbes reports (David, Forbes, 4/5). The court in February heard arguments in the case. Some HIV/AIDS advocacy groups are calling on Novartis to drop its legal challenge, saying that if the company wins the case it could restrict access to antiretroviral drugs for millions of people worldwide. Novartis also brought a civil lawsuit against the Indian government after the country in January 2006 rejected the company's attempt to patent a new version of its leukemia drug Gleevec on the basis that the drug is a new formulation of an existing drug. India's patent law, which went into effect in January 2005, allows patents for products that are new inventions developed after 1995, when India joined the World Trade Organization, or for an updated drug that exhibits improved efficacy. Although some Indian drug companies and groups say that Gleevec is a new formulation of a drug developed before 1995, Novartis says that it is an improved drug. If Novartis wins the case, it potentially could set a precedent for other pharmaceutical companies seeking patent protection for drugs, including antiretrovirals, some HIV/AIDS advocates have said. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres, most of the roughly 9,000 pending patent applications would be affected by this ongoing case. MSF, which relies on India for about 80% of the AIDS drugs it uses to provide 80,000 people worldwide with access to treatment, in a statement said that if India is "made to change its law, many of these medicines could become patented, making them off-limits to the generic competition that has proved to bring prices down" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/6). The panel did not set a date when it will announce its verdict in the case. In related news, the panel also ordered that Novartis' challenge concerning Gleevec be referred to a patent appeals board, which will consist of experts and be headed by a former judge, according to Reuters (Reuters, 4/4). The panel said, "We do not want to express any opinion" about the Gleevec case. Novartis in a statement said the formation of an appeals board is a "step forward in creating a fully functioning patent system in India; however, we are concerned that this new development may further delay review of the Gleevec patent matter." The appeals board was established on Tuesday and will serve as the country's highest authority on patent issues, according to Forbes (Forbes, 4/5).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.