Celebration for patients after India’s landmark ruling against Swiss drug giant Novartis means millions can afford generic medicines

 

Delhi

For Sourabh Ghosh, it was nothing less than a matter of life or death.

Diagnosed with leukaemia more than a decade ago, the Delhi student was able to obtain a life-saving but expensive Swiss-produced medicine, firstly through a donation scheme and later through his medical insurance while studying in the US.

But when he returned to India in 2008, he was told he would have to pay for the drug. His salvation came in the form of a copy-cat medicine manufactured by an Indian company at a fraction of the cost.

“It would have been a disaster if this alternative was not available. If I stopped taking medicine the leukaemia would have relapsed,” said Mr Ghosh, now a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology. “If you don’t treat it, it becomes aggressive. The patient will die after six to eight months.”

Mr Ghosh, 40, was on Monday among millions of people around the world celebrating a decision by India’s highest court not to grant a patent to a drugs manufacturer in a case campaigners say will help safeguard the ability of patients to afford life-saving medicine.

In a landmark case, the supreme court rejected a patent application by Novartis AG for a drug it claims was an updated anti-leukaemia treatment. Activists said the judgement would protect India’s £17bn generic drug industry, which makes cheaper imitations of life-saving medicine.

The dispute involving Novartis, a Swiss-based multi-national pharmaceutical company, dated back seven years and centred on its attempt to seek a patent for its anti-cancer drug Glivec. Glivec, which has been celebrated as a breakthrough in treating forms of blood cancer, costs £1,700 a month in its branded form while the generic version is available in India from £115.

The company claimed the drug was a new product while activists said it was merely a slightly modified version of an earlier product whose patent had expired.

Activists said today’s ruling means other drug companies will also be prevented from obtaining patents on updated version of exiting drugs, a practise known as “ever-greening”. They said the impact will be felt around the world.

Pratibha Singh, a lawyer for generic drug producer Cipla, part of an industry that is expected to be worth £46bn by 2010, told the AFP that the “ruling will have implications not just for India but also for other Asian, African and Latin American countries”.

She added: “The ruling also makes it clear you cannot patent a drug by just making some minor modifications — the key Section 3d of the patent law has been upheld by the court.”

Mr Ghosh started taking Glivec after he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia, a cancer of the white blood cells, in 2000.

While he was for some years able to access the drug through a donation scheme, since 2008 Mr Ghosh has been taking a generic version of the medicine. He will have to take it for the rest of his life. “I am doing perfectly well. I play sport, I swim,” said Mr Ghosh.

India’s generic drugs industry supplies around one-fifth of the world’s imitation drugs. It assumed this position because until 2005 it did not issue patents on drugs and only did so to comply with World Trade Organisation rules.

Novartis and other drug manufacturers argue that patents are required to protect products that have required large sums in development research and testing.

“We brought this case because we strongly believe patents safeguard innovation and encourage medical progress, particularly for unmet medical needs,” said Ranjit Shahani, of Novartis India Limited. “This ruling is a setback for patients that will hinder medical progress for diseases without effective treatment options.”

Novartis’ application for a fresh patent in India was turned down by the country’s patent office in 2005. It then filed an appeal, saying that the new product could be more easily absorbed and therefore qualified as a new product. That appeal was in turn rejected so the company turned to the supreme court.

Kiran Hukku of the Cancer Patients Aid Association, said over the last three years it had helped provide generic drugs to around 5,000 cancer patients who were still alive as a result of the medicine. “So many lives will be saved as a result [of today’s ruling],” she said.

Vikas and Preeti Ahuja were also celebrating Monday’s decision. Both have HIV and need to take two daily treatments of lamivudine, nevirapine and zidovudine. They receive their drugs from the Indian government, which purchases them from a generic manufacturer, again at a fraction of the normal cost.

Mr Ahuja, who was infected via a blood transfusion when he was a student and who is chairman of the Delhi Network of Positive People, said he regularly sent packages of such generic drugs to places such as China, Vietnam and even East Timor, where they are not available.

He said: “I would have been dead a long time ago without the generic treatment. If this decision had gone the other way it would have been a disaster, and a prolonged disaster. It would have affected future generations.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Developer (ASP.NET, F#, SQL, MVC, Bootstrap, JavaScript)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?