According to a news source, the India Supreme Court will hear final arguments in March 2012 on whether the manufacturer of a drug that could not be patented in India because it was created before 1995 during a moratorium on the grant of patents to Western companies, may obtain a patent in that country for a newer form of the drug. At issue is the treatment for a deadly form of leukemia. Under Indian law, a newer form of a known substance cannot be patented unless it significantly improves the drug’s efficacy. Drug maker Novartis contends that the current version of its cancer drug is 30 percent easier for the body to absorb than the chemical it patented in the early 1990s in the United States and other countries but never marketed as a drug. The company has reportedly resisted pressure to drop the case, hoping that the Court will define what product attributes constitute increased efficacy.
The case has apparently pitted the makers of branded drug products against those manufacturing generics and implicates policy issues among trading partners. The Obama administration objects to India’s protective patent provision and is seeking an agreement from nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new Pacific Rim trade pact, to grant patents under circumstances similar to those in the case currently before India’s high court. Doctors Without Borders and other public health interests advocate generic drugs and oppose Novartis’s efforts to gain protection for expensive branded medicines; the drug at issue can cost as much as $70,000 a year in the United States. The Indian government has denied patents for many drugs made by Western companies, which has apparently allowed its generics industry, exporting about $10 billion annually in generic medicines primarily to developing countries, to prosper. See The New York Times, March 7, 2012.