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Feature Drug Industry

“World’s pharmacy” faces new challenges from Western drug companies

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 17 September 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6207
  1. Andrew Jack, pharmaceuticals correspondent
  1. 1Financial Times, London, UK
  1. andrew.jack{at}

As it becomes a global battleground for the fight over intellectual property rights, is India’s role as the “world’s pharmacy” under threat? And what effect will this have on affordable access to medicines? Andrew Jack reports

In two courtrooms at opposite ends of India, pivotal legal battles with Western drug companies over patents are coming to a head this month. The outcomes will have wide ranging consequences for millions of patients across the developing world.

In New Delhi, the Supreme Court is considering Novartis’s last ditch argument that it should be granted patents to protect imatinib mesylate (Glivec), its treatment for leukaemia, despite a series of rejections by the patent office and in subsequent appeals since the middle of the last decade.

Separately in Chennai, the Intellectual Property Appellate Board is considering a case brought by Bayer after India’s patent controller took an unprecedented decision in March this year to issue a “compulsory licence,” substantially undermining the patent Bayer had previously been granted for its cancer drug sorafenib (Nexavar).

The pharmaceutical industry and patient advocacy groups worldwide are watching the cases closely, as India becomes a global battleground for the fight over intellectual property rights and their effect on innovation and affordable access to medicines. The feud is taking place in courtrooms, but there is also high level lobbying over trade rules between India and the US and Europe.

Some Western multinational drug companies argue that the current situation is casting a chill on their willingness to invest in drug research in India and jeopardising their broader ability to develop new medicines and be fairly rewarded for their efforts and risks.

“There is no doubt that India has the talent —we have lots of Indian scientists in our laboratories,” says Paul Herrling from Novartis. “But if the situation doesn’t change …

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