In developing (and some developed) countries, it can be impossibly expensive to buy drugs for serious diseases that are sometimes unavoidable, like HIV and cancer. Fortunately for many of the world’s poor, some nations have laws in place which prevent drug patents from eliminating generic, low-cost versions of these medicines. However, pharmaceutical companies argue that these patent prohibitions make the research and development behind these drugs prohibitively expensive.
Without the guaranteed rights to sell the drug for a certain time, companies will be forced to charge an extremely low amount to compete with the generic knock-offs. At these prices, it can be argued that the initial investment will never be recouped, and thus the drug will never actually make money. If no money is made, the company has no stream of revenue with which to research new drugs—and why would they do so, if they would only end up losing more money?
India’s Supreme Court, however, did not see this argument as compelling in a recent decision when it ruled in favor of drug makers producing Gleevec, a leukemia medication that is a generic version of Glivec, made by Novartis. Considered “one of the most important medical discoveries in decades,” this drug is remarkably effective at treating specific forms of cancer, especially when compared to others in its category.
Novartis contended that a patent law from 2005, which allows drug companies to retain rights in India for medicines created after 1995, protects Glivec from reproduction. However, the Supreme Court contended that Glivec is close enough to another drug Novartis had created in 1993 to prevent it from falling into the protected category.
Considering that Gleevec can cost 28 times less than Glivec, this decision is a boon for poor Indians who need life saving medication. More than two out of every three Indians live on less than $2 a day, so cheaper pharmaceutical drugs are absolutely essential for saving lives. The cost to bear has yet to be seen; drug makers have threatened to pull research from the nation, and this issue will remain a thorn in the side of trade negotiations between India and the United States, as American corporations are apprehensive about what they call “anti-innovation” policies.
– Jake Simon
Source: New York Times