Indian Court Ruling in Novartis Case Protects India as the 'Pharmacy of the Developing World'

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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New Delhi/Geneva, August 6, 2007 – The landmark decision by the High Court in Chennai to uphold India's Patents Act in the face of the challenge by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis is a major victory for patients' access to affordable medicines in developing countries, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) stated today.

"This is a huge relief for millions of patients and doctors in developing countries who depend on affordable medicines from India," said Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Director of the MSF Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "The Court's decision now makes Indian patents on the medicines that we desperately need less likely. We call upon multinational drug companies and wealthy countries to leave the Indian Patents Act alone and stop pushing for ever stricter patent regimes in developing countries."

Novartis took the Indian government to court over its 2005 Patents Act because it wanted a more extensive granting of patent protection for its products than offered by the law. Novartis claimed that India's Patents Act did not meet rules set down by the World Trade Organization and was in violation of the Indian constitution. Apparently all of Novartis's claims have been rejected by the High Court today.

India only began giving patents on medicines to comply with WTO rules, but it designed its law with safeguards so that patents can only be granted for real innovations. This means that companies seeking a patent for modifications to a molecule already invented, in order to extend ever further their monopolies on existing drugs, would be unsuccessful in India. It is this aspect of the law that Novartis was seeking to have removed. A ruling in favor of the company would have drastically restricted the production of affordable medicines in India that are crucial for the treatment of diseases throughout the developing world.

Developing country governments and international agencies like UNICEF and the Clinton Foundation rely heavily on importing affordable drugs from India, and 84% of the antiretrovirals that MSF prescribes to its patients worldwide come from Indian generic companies. India must be allowed to remain the 'pharmacy of the developing world.'

Nearly half a million people worldwide voiced their concern about the impact Novartis's case could have on access to medicines in the developing world. Among them were the Indian Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Global Fund Director Michel Kazatchkine, members from the European Parliament and the US Congress, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, former UN Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis, German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Norwegian Development Minister Erik Solheim, as well as authors John Le Carré and Naomi Klein. An MSF petition urging Novartis to drop the case gathered over 420,000 signatures.