November 9, 2012
Pharmaceutical companies Bayer and Novartis are attempting to limit generic competition by taking legal action in India, the home of MSF’s main suppliers of oral drugs and vaccinations. In early September, Bayer challenged India’s green light for the generic production of its patented cancer drug, Nexavar. Less than two weeks later, Norvartis resumed its lengthy legal battle in the Indian Supreme Court against a law that prevents repeated renewal of drug patents when only minor changes are made to the drug.
Currently, India offers a favorable environment for generic competition. By issuing compulsory licenses—as it did in the Bayer case—India allows generic companies to produce more affordable versions of patented drugs without the patent holder’s consent as long as the generic companies pay a fee to the patent holder. India’s patent law, known as Section 3(d), also prevents “evergreening,” the excessive renewal of drug patents without any major therapeutic improvement in the drug.
Compulsory licenses and the prevention of evergreening allow for generic drugs to enter the market more quickly. Through legal action, Bayer and Novartis aim to repeal compulsory licenses and protect evergreening practices in India. If successful, Bayer and Novartis can sell their drugs at monopolized prices for far longer by lengthening the time it takes for generic competition to enter the Indian market. This could have a devastating effect on MSF’s patients around the world; as Bruno Delouche notes in this issue of Alert, MSF gets most of the drugs it uses in its programs for India.
An example: Gleevec, the cancer drug for which Novartis is trying to extend the patent, costs patients $2,158 per month; the generic version costs $174 per month. Similarly, Bayer’s patented cancer drug Nexavar costs $5,030 per month, while the generic price is just $122 per month.
With generic options on the market, people who cannot afford to pay monopolized prices can still access needed medicines, and organizations like MSF can afford and disseminate more drugs when prices are lower. If Bayer and Novartis win their cases and the Indian laws are overturned, access to affordable drugs will be severely limited for the people who need them most. MSF therefore, led by its Access Campaign, continues to advocate against these efforts, aiming to preserve the ability of people in developing countries to get the medicines they need.
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)