Info Service on Health Issues (February 07/07)
Former Swiss President joins call for Novartis to drop its case in India
prominent figures have joined the chorus of over 300,000 people worldwide
voicing concerns about Novartisí legal challenge against the Indian
government and its impact on access to essential medicines across the
include the former Swiss President, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Stephen
Lewis former UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, and Dr. Michel
Kazatchkine, the head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis
following story is reproduced with the permission of South-North Development
Monitor (SUNS) #6192, 16 February 2007.
India: Former Swiss President joins chorus against Novartis' patent
By Kanaga Raja,
Geneva, 15 February, 2007
The former President of the Swiss Confederation, Ms. Ruth Dreifuss,
has joined a chorus of over 300,000 people worldwide in voicing concerns
about the impact that Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis' legal challenge
against the Indian government could have on access to essential medicines
around the world.
Dreifuss joins other prominent public figures including Archbishop Desmond
Tutu, former UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis,
and the new head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and
Malaria, Dr Michel Kazatchkine, in calling upon the company to drop
its case against India.
At a media briefing on Thursday, Dreifuss said that in attacking not
only the decision of the Indian authorities concerning the drug Glivec
but also the Indian Patent law of 2005, Novartis intends to impede not
only this country but also all others to make use of the flexibility
inscribed in the TRIPS Agreement. It is a tentative intimidation of
which the consequences go beyond the Indian case.
Dreifuss, who was Swiss President in 1999 and later chaired the 2004-2006
WHO Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public
Health, was joined at the media briefing by the Swiss-based NGO Berne
Declaration, Oxfam International and the international medical humanitarian
agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
The NGOs emphasized that Novartis is challenging the right of countries
to have patent laws that put the interest of people first, and called
on the company to cease its legal action.
Novartis is seeking to overturn India's refusal to grant a patent on
the cancer drug that the company markets as Gleevec/Glivec, and is also
challenging the provision in the Indian Patents Act of 2005 which formed
the basis for rejecting the Novartis patent.
If the provision were overturned, patents would be granted far more
widely in India, heavily restricting the production of affordable medicines
that has become crucial to the treatment of diseases across the developing
world, the NGOs said.
In other countries where Novartis has obtained a patent, Gleevec is
sold at $2,600 per patient per month, while in India, generic versions
of the drug are available for less than $200 per patient per month.
There are an estimated 9,000 patent applications waiting to be reviewed
by Indian authorities of which most are believed to be modifications
of old drugs. If India is made to change its law, many of these medicines
could become patented, making them off-limits to the generic competition
that has proven to bring prices down.
Dreifuss and the NGOs were speaking on the same day that a scheduled
hearing of the case was taking place in the Madras High Court in India.
[According to an update posted by the Indian NGO Lawyers' Collective
on a list-server, the Madras High Court on Thursday heard arguments
on certain preliminary matters in the Novartis case.
[According to the Collective, Novartis India and Novartis AG had filed
applications to amend their petitions to ask for a declaration from
the Court that section 3(d) of the Indian Patent Act was not in compliance
with TRIPS and that it violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution,
which prohibits discriminatory and arbitrary state action. The CPAA
and the generic companies had opposed the applications to amend. They
argued that compliance of Indian law with TRIPS could not be agitated
before the Indian courts.
[The Court ultimately allowed the amendment of the petitions, but ruled
that all of the objections mentioned would be noted and heard during
the hearing. The parties were also given the opportunity to file affidavits
on Novartis' amended petition challenging 3(d) on the ground of Article
[According to the Collective, the hearing was adjourned until Friday
- since there was a strike by lawyers in Chennai (because of an unrelated
altercation and dispute between the police and one of the senior lawyers
of the High Court). On Friday, another preliminary issue of whether
Novartis may convert its challenge to the Patent Controller's order
from a writ to an appeal will be decided. The scope for a writ petition
before the High Court is limited.]
At the media briefing Thursday, Celine Charveriat, Head of Oxfam's Make
Trade Fair Campaign, said that mobilization and concerns over the Novartis
action is growing worldwide. Thousands of patients and activists are
mobilizing in India and demonstrating in front of the courts.
It is time for Novartis to act ethically and responsibly and drop the
case, she said, pointing to the precedent of pharmaceutical companies
trying to intimidate developing country governments as happened in South
Africa in 2001. When the companies saw the extent of the mobilizations,
they decided to drop the case.
She expressed hope that Novartis will do the same.
Dr Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Director of MSF Campaign for Access to Essential
Medicines, said that MSF relies heavily on medicines that are produced
in India. Eighty percent of patients in its AIDS treatment programmes
are dependent on medicines that come from India.
To illustrate the importance of having affordable generic medicines,
he referred to a recent trip he made to China where he saw a young man
who had advanced AIDS and had developed an eye infection. The only treatment
that could save his eyesight was a drug manufactured by the pharmaceutical
company Roche. It was patented in China and sold for $9,000 per treatment.
When he raised the issue of the high cost of the drug with Roche, it
said that it provides the drug to least developed countries at $1,800
per treatment. But even that price, Von Schoen-Angerer said, was high.
"This is what we are facing when we say that we are dependent on
affordable medicines," he said, adding that unless there is generic
competition, the price differentials that are offered by the pharmaceutical
companies are not the solution.
He said that the issuing of compulsory licenses is one way to ensure
generic competition and to bring drug prices down.
He also said that he had met with WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan
and called on her to support the cause for Novartis to drop its case
According to the NGOs, many developing countries rely on affordable
medicines produced in India, and such medicines constitute over half
the AIDS drugs used in the developing world. India has been able to
produce affordable versions of medicines patented elsewhere because
until 2005, the country did not grant pharmaceutical product patents.
"We are increasingly seeing the tools we need to treat people being
taken out of our hands," said Dr. von Schoen-Angerer. "We
are unable to afford the new medicines we need and not enough is being
developed for the diseases that mainly affect people in developing countries."
Because of the global implications of Novartis' legal action in India,
Swiss organizations, led by the Berne Declaration, urged the company
to drop its case in an open letter to Novartis CEO Daniel Vasella sent
in October 2006.
The letter was endorsed by over two-dozen Swiss health NGOs including
the Swiss Cancer League and Swiss AIDS Federation, as well as Swiss
opinion makers, including Ruth Dreifuss.
"It is not acceptable that in order to sell its medicines at high
price to a minority of wealthy patients in India and in other developing
countries, Novartis is ready to worsen access to affordable essential
and life-saving medicines for people in developing countries,"
according to Julien Reinhard, Health Campaign Director at the Berne
Declaration. "This behaviour is not socially responsible. It's
time for Novartis to act responsibly and drop its case in India."
Meanwhile, a group of church leaders also called on Novartis to drop
its case in India. In a press release issued on 14 February, Archbishop
Desmond Tutu said: "People, not profits, must be at the centre
of patent law for medicines."
Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation,
said: "Novartis' proclaimed mission is to 'ease suffering and to
enhance the quality of life.' But this case is not about prioritizing
life. It has every appearance of protecting wealthy corporate interests
at the expense of the health of millions for whom access to affordable
medicines is a matter of life and death."
Bishop Yvon Ambroise of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the
Catholic Bishop's Conference of India said, " How can Novartis
justify asking for the right to patent changes to a medicine that brings
no new benefit."
"We support practices that encourage and reward real innovation
and progress in improving health of people in need. We condemn practices
that trivialize innovation for the sake of maximizing corporate profits,"
According to MSF, India is the main supplier of essential medicines
for developing countries, where 67% of medicines produced in India are
exported to developing countries.
Globally, 70% of the treatment for patients in 87 developing countries,
purchased by UNICEF, the International Dispensary Association, the Global
Fund and the Clinton Foundation since July 2005 has come from Indian
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