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India’s Supreme Court Rules Against Novartis AG In ‘Landmark’ Patent Case

“India’s Supreme Court on Monday rejected drug maker Novartis AG’s attempt to patent an updated version of a cancer drug in a landmark decision that health activists say ensures poor patients around the world will get continued access to cheap versions of lifesaving medicines,” the Associated Press reports. “Novartis had argued that it needed a patent to protect its investment in the cancer drug Glivec, while activists said the drug did not merit intellectual property protection in India because it was not a new medicine,” the news agency notes (George, 4/1). “The case goes back to 2006 when Novartis’ application for a fresh patent in India for its cancer drug imatinib mesylate was rejected by the Indian patent office,” the AP writes in a separate article, adding, “A decision in the seven-year legal battle [has been] keenly awaited by the two most interested parties — big pharma companies and health aid groups — with both sides saying the outcome will set a precedent with far-reaching consequences for the future availability of the drugs” (George, 3/31).

“The decision [.pdf] means generic drug makers can continue to sell copies of the drug at a lower price in India, one of the fastest growing pharmaceutical markets,” BBC News notes (4/1). “The decision sets a benchmark for intellectual property cases in India, where many patented drugs are unaffordable for most of its 1.2 billion people, and does not bode well for foreign firms engaged in ongoing disputes in India, including Pfizer Inc. and Roche Holding AG, analysts said,” according to Reuters (Kulkarni/Mohanty, 4/1). “The court’s decision has global significance since India’s $26 billion generic drug industry, which supplies much of the cheap medicine used in the developing world, could be stunted if Indian law allowed global drug companies to extend the lifespan of patents by making minor changes to medicines,” the AP adds (4/1). “Novartis, which reported net profit of $9.6 billion in 2012 on sales of $56.7 billion, condemned the judgment, saying it ‘discourages innovative drug discovery essential to advancing medical science for patients,'” Agence France-Presse reports (MacRae, 4/1). The Health Gap Blog on Monday released an analysis of the decision (Baker, 4/1).