India Squashes Novartis Cancer Drug Patent

High court move likely to keep drugs cheap in developing world

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 1, 2013 7:41 AM CDT

(Newser) – A major Supreme Court decision in India could be good news for patients in developing countries, activists say. The court ruled that Novartis couldn't have a new patent for a tuneup to an existing cancer drug, since it's not a new medicine, the AP reports. "Patents will be given only for genuine inventions, and repetitive patents will not be given for minor tweaks to an existing drug," a lawyer for a generic drugmaker said. India produces generic drugs for countries across the developing world.

The fight over the drug, known as Glivec or Gleevec, began in 2006 after India's patent office denied Novartis' application; the office referred to "evergreening," when companies seek new patents after slightly altering medicines. "The generic version makes it affordable to so many more poor people, not just in India, but across the world," said an activist. "For cancer sufferers, this ruling will mean the difference between life and death." Novartis, however, said the decision was a "setback for patients." Said an exec: "We strongly believe patents safeguard innovation and encourage medical progress."

Anand Grover, a lawyer for the Cancer Patients Aid Association, who led the legal fight against Novartis, addresses a press conference in New Delhi, India, Monday, April 1, 2013.   (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
Kiran Hukku, a member of Cancer Patients Aid association, sits behind packages of Indian-made cancer drugs costing $175 per month as compared to Novartis' $2600, in New Delhi, India, April 1, 2013.   (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
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