Even though Novartis and other multinational corporations (MNCs) are upset with the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to reject Novartis’ patent claim on Glivec, the key man behind the popular cancer drug has welcomed the verdict, saying it would benefit patients.
Brian Druker, director, Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health and Sciences University, is the man who invented the molecule — imatinib, the precursor to Gleevec (Glivec) — as a promising anti-cancer compound in 1990s. “This patent decision clearly makes more affordable drugs available immediately and this is good for patients in the short term,” Druker said in an email response to Business Standard.
“I have consistently spoken out about what I view as the high price of drugs, but if we too severely restrict the price of medications, we may lose the ability to invest in new drugs,” he added.
In 2007, Druker reportedly said the price at which Novartis was selling imatinib around the world had caused him considerable discomfort. “Pharmaceutical companies that have invested in the development of medicines should achieve a return on their investments. But this does not mean the abuse of these exclusive rights by excessive prices and seeking patents over minor changes to extend monopoly prices. This goes against the spirit of the patent system and is not justified, given the vital investments made by the public sector over decades that make the discovery of these medicines possible,” said Druker. His statement is widely used by pharma non-government organisations across India to challenge the claims of MNCs.
Druker’s effort to find a new drug for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) was started in late 1980s, when he joined hands with industry scientists at Ciba-Geigy (now Novartis Pharmaceuticals). In 1993, he moved to Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland and continued his efforts. Imatinib was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in May 2001 for use in CML.
“The issue is, when does a country move from needing assistance to make drugs affordable, to being able to contribute more to drug discovery and innovation,” said Druker.
At present, India is at the receiving end after MNCs flayed the government’s decision to allow compulsory licence for patented cancer drugs, which remain unaffordable to Indian patients. Recently, the Indian patent office issued a compulsory licence to Natco Pharma to manufacture the generic version of Nexavar, cancer drug owned by Bayer. Natco plans to sell the drug at Rs 8,880 for a pack of 120 tablets / month, compared to Bayer’s price of Rs 2.8 lakh.
“Whether patients will be adequately monitored is another issue and for the long-term. Whether this patent decision damages the drug discovery cycle remains to be seen,” said Druker.