MSF Urges Novartis Shareholders to Join the Call on CEO Vasella to 'Drop the Case' Against the Indian Government

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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New York/Geneva, March 5, 2007 — On the day of the last hearing in Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis legal challenge against India's Patents Act, the company continues to ignore the global protests asking it to drop the case. The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) strongly condemns Novartis for pushing forward with the case and is asking the company's shareholders to urge CEO Vasella to withdraw the legal challenge in India, which could jeopardize worldwide access to essential medicines.

More than 350,000 people have voiced their concern about Novartis' actions, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman, several European Union Parliamentarians, incoming Global Fund Director Michel Kazatchkine, former Swiss president and chair of the 2004-06 World Health Organization Commission on Intellectual Property Innovation and Public Health (CIPIH) Ruth Dreifuss, German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, former UN Special Envoy on AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis, and author John le Carré. Patient groups and non-governmental organizations around the world have also raised their voices.

"We heavily rely upon affordable products from India. We are very concerned that Novartis' actions will affect the availability of affordable drugs in the poorest regions of the world, where we work," said Dr. Unni Karunakara, medical director of MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "India's use of the flexibilities encouraged by international trade rules is crucial and could serve as a model for other countries. But if Novartis succeeds, this window of opportunity will close in India, and possibly elsewhere."

"At the Novartis's Annual Shareholders Meeting in Basel tomorrow, we are asking shareholders to voice their concern about the consequences of the company's actions in India," said Dr. Christophe Fournier, MSF International Council President. "At a time when more and more health authorities rely upon affordable generic medicines, it is simply unthinkable to let the action of one company threaten one of the main global suppliers."

Today, the Chennai high court will hold its last hearing in Novartis's challenge of section 3(d) of the Indian Patent Act. A court ruling is expected roughly one month later. The second court case that focuses on the rejection of an Indian patent for Novartis' leukemia drug Glivec/Geevec (Imatinib) will be heard by the same court tomorrow. MSF will continue to follow that case very closely.

Increased availability and affordability of antiretroviral drugs is what allowed MSF and others to start treating HIV/AIDS patients around the world since 2000. India is often described as "the pharmacy of the developing world": Indian drugs currently account for at least a quarter of all medicines that MSF buys, and form the backbone of MSF's AIDS programs, in which 80,000 people in over 30 countries receive treatment. Over 80 percent of the medicines MSF uses to treat AIDS come from India.