Patent for Valganciclovir Set Aside in India; Could Mean More HIV-Positive People Saved From Blindness

Geneva, December 4, 2008—International medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) welcomes the ruling by the Madras High Court instructing India's patent office to hear the opponents to the patent application for valganciclovir by the pharmaceutical company Roche.

In June 2007, the patent office granted Roche a patent for valganciclovir. It did so, however, without hearing the civil society organizations that had filed pre-grant oppositions against the application. This week, the High Court has decided that this denial leads to the annulment of the patent grant.

The patent office will now be asked to hear the arguments of civil society organizations - the Indian Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS (INP+) and the Tamil Nadu Networking People with HIV/AIDS (TNNP+) – that oppose the granting of the patent.

Valganciclovir is used in the treatment of an opportunistic infection caused by cytomegalovirus (CMV), that, untreated, can cause blindness and death in people living with HIV/AIDS. Roche charges US$10,000 for a four-month course of valganciclovir. In December 2006, MSF approached Roche in order to seek a lower price, and the company agreed on a price of US$1,900 for least-developed and a few other countries. This price is so prohibitively expensive that many MSF projects had to opt out of using this treatment.

MSF is working towards increased access to this drug and looks forward to a decision by the patent office that will lead to a dramatically lower price, thereby making this treatment accessible, especially in middle-income countries that have the capacity to diagnose and treat CMV retinitis and systemic CMV disease.

MSF will continue to follow this issue closely.