Novartis loses landmark India cancer drug patent case

Mon Apr 1, 2013 4:00pm EDT
 
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By Kaustubh Kulkarni and Suchitra Mohanty

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's top court dismissed Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG's attempt to win patent protection for its cancer drug Glivec, a blow to Western pharmaceutical firms targeting India to drive sales and a victory for local makers of cheap generics.

The decision sets a benchmark for intellectual property cases in India, where many patented drugs are unaffordable for most of its 1.2 billion people, and does not bode well for foreign firms engaged in ongoing disputes in India, including Pfizer Inc and Roche Holding AG, analysts said.

It cements the role of local companies as big suppliers of inexpensive generics to India's rapidly growing $13 billion-a-year drugs market and also across the developing world.

Among the chief beneficiaries of Monday's Supreme Court ruling will be India's Cipla Ltd and Natco Pharma Ltd, which already sell generic Glivec in India at around one-tenth of the price of the branded drug.

"The multinational companies will have to find new ways of doing business in India," said Deepak Malik, healthcare analyst at brokerage Emkay Global, suggesting they may consider licensing agreements with local firms to offer cheap versions of branded drugs like Glivec.

Ranjit Shahani, managing director of Novartis India Ltd, the firm's locally listed unit, said it would be cautious about investing in India, especially over introducing new drugs, and seek patent protection before launching any new products. It will continue to refrain from research and development activities there.

"The intellectual property ecosystem in India is not very encouraging," Shahani told reporters in Mumbai after the ruling.

Healthcare activists have asked the government to make medicines cheaper in a country where many patented drugs are too costly for most people, 40 percent of whom earn less than $1.25 a day, and where patented drugs account for under 10 percent of total drug sales.   Continued...

 
Ranjit Shahani, chairman and managing director of Novartis India Ltd, speaks with the media during a news conference in Mumbai April 1, 2013. Novartis India Ltd, a unit of Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG, will continue to file for patents in India, Shahani said on Monday, after the country's top court rejected its plea for patent protection of its drug Glivec. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash