India’s top court has rejected a bid by the Swiss pharmaceuticals firm Novartis to gain patent protection for a cancer drug. Activists say the ruling protects access to affordable generic versions of drugs.
The decision handed down by India's Supreme Court on Monday ended a nearly seven-year legal battle waged by Novartis to get a new version of its cancer drug Glivec patented in India.
The court ruled that the changes to a previous version of the drug "did not satisfy the test of novelty or inventiveness" to give it patent protection. Indian law prevents companies from obtaining fresh patents based on minor modifications to existing drugs. The updated form of glivec has been patented in dozens of other countries, including the US, China and Russia.
The ruling is regarded as a precedent that will also prevent other international companies from getting Indian patents on newer versions of products that are already on the market. This in turn means that pharmaceutical companies in India will be able to continue to produce cheaper generic versions of drugs for people, particularly in the developing world, who cannot afford the originals.
A lawyer who represented the Cancer Patients Aid Association, which opposed Novartis in the case, expressed delight at the ruling.
"This will go a long way in providing affordable medicine for the poor," Arnand Grover told reporters outside of the New Delhi courtroom shortly after the verdict was handed down.
The ruling was also welcomed by India's generics drug giant Cipla, whose lawyer also spoke to reporters outside of the court.
"The ruling will have implications not just for India but also for other Asian, African and Latin American countries," Pratibha Singh said.
The Swiss drug maker criticized the ruling, saying in a statement posted on its website that it "discourages innovative drug discovery essential to advancing medical science for patients."
Ranjit Shahani, the vice chairman and managing director of Novartis India Ltd. said the company had never been granted an original patent for Glivec and that "original innovation should be recognized in patents to encourage investment in medical innovation especially for unmet medical needs."
pfd/kms (AFP, Reuters, AP)