A briefing paper issued by Doctors Without Borders (Médecins sans Frontières) takes issue with Novartis’s response to the contention that the company should not be granted a patent on the leukemia drug Gleevec in India.
Basically, the humanitarian organization disagrees with Novartis’s claim that there’s no connection between patent protection and drug cost/availability. They explain their own experience, for instance with patent protection on AIDS meds:
When AIDS treatment first became available in the late 1990s, the price of first line patented AIDS medicines was—even after discounts—US$10,439 per patient per year. Millions died in developing countries, particularly in Africa, as prices were too high. Generic competition brought prices down, making treatment possible.
And, whereas Novartis argues that it should be able to have a monopoly on Gleevec in India because 40 other countries have recognized its patent, MSF says
Although the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) … TRIPS Agreement obliges all WTO members, including India, to grant patents on medicines, nothing obliges developing countries to replicate the patent systems of wealthy countries.
The Gleevec suit will be decided by an Indian court at the end of March. Meanwhile, there’s a new development in a related case: This week, India used compulsory licensing to grant the right to make a different cancer drug, sorafenib tosylate (used for kidney and liver cancers), breaking Bayer’s monopoly.
The director of MSF’s Access campaign said
When drug companies are price gouging and limiting availability, there is a consequence: the Patent Office can and will end monopoly powers to ensure access to important medicines. If this precedent is applied to other drugs and expanded to include exports, it would have a direct impact on affordability of medicines used by MSF and give a real boost to accessing the drugs that are critically needed in countries where we work