Supreme Court puts Human Rights before Excessive Profits

Supreme Court puts Human Rights before Excessive Profits

The Supreme Court’s ruling against a patent protection petition filed by Novartis AG’s − a major multinational pharmaceutical company, is a huge victory to public health, according to leading non-governmental organisation, Oxfam India. By dismissing the petition which was seeking patent for Glivec – Novartis’ anti-cancer drug, “the Honourable Court has put human rights before excessive profits” said Nisha Agrawal, CEO of Oxfam India.

While Oxfam India is not against companies making profits, it’s certainly against companies charging exorbitant amounts for life-saving drugs in the name of patents. 

Glivec is definitely a breakthrough medicine to treat chronic myeloid leukaemia, which kills 80-90 per cent of sufferers. According to Agrawal, “patenting this medicine would have defeated the very purpose of this breakthrough medicine – to treat patients’ suffering from cancer. This important medicine would be of no use to cancer survivors if they can’t afford to buy it.” 

Currently, Glive is priced at Rs. 1.2 lakh (120,000 Indian rupees) for a monthly dosage which is 21 times the per capita income in India. Today’s ruling will make way for generic version of the drug which may cost about Rs. 10,000 a month – a whopping 92 per cent cheaper than the patented version. Even the generic version may still not be affordable to millions of patients in a country where health expenditure is one of the most important reasons for indebtedness. 

This ruling certainly calls for celebrations. “However, one needs to study the entire judgement to ascertain what impact it will have on future patent disputes and whether this ruling could settle the debate over evergreening of drugs by providing clarity over the extent of innovation required to retain patents in India” said Agrawal.

Drug patent evergreening is the single most important strategy that multinational pharmaceutical companies have been using to retain excessive profits from so-called “blockbuster” drugs for as long as possible. Drug companies try to extend the patent by slightly modifying the formulation, which may or may not have any therapeutic difference.

Oxfam India now calls on Novartis AG to take positive steps to recognise the importance of ensuring access to life-saving drugs, especially poor people’s. Unless Novartis takes the positive steps to improve access to medicines, its own commitment “to protect and improve health and well-being” will remain unmet.


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