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No incentive to Indian pharma to innovate

Ranjit Shahani 

No one expected, when the first major clinical trial started on Glivec in 2000, that the patients would live much beyond a couple of years. Yet, 7 years later, 86% of them were still alive, and 82% of them had achieved a complete response to the medicine.

This breakthrough treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia is just one example of how innovation-based pharmaceutical continue to research and discover new therapies.

The decision by the Indian Supreme Court denying a patent to Glivec, the Novartis breakthrough medicine,discourages innovative drug discovery essential to advancing medical science for patients in need of new treatments.

The primary concern of this case was with India's growing non-recognition of intellectual property rights that sustain research and development for innovative medicines.

As a leader in both innovative and generic medicines, Novartis strongly supports the contribution of generics to improving public health once drug patents expire but generics alone do not guarantee access to medications. In India, the Novartis patient access programme for Glivec is one of the most far-reaching programmes ever conceived. We have been providing Glivec free of charge to 95% of the patients prescribed the drug and the balance 5% are on a very generous co-pay programme. In fact, since Novartis began the access programme for Glivec in 2002, we have provided Glivec valued at more than $1.7 billion completely free to patients in India.

The hidden harm in this decision to deny a patent to Glivec is that it offers no incentive to India's pharmaceutical to become innovators themselves. The immense talents in India's pharmaceutical should be focused on R&D of medicines that will help the people and the economy of India that go far beyond simply copying others' inventions. Without patents there will be few new medicines and without new medicines there will be no new generics.

It is time for India's own pharmaceutical companies to become creators and discoverers of medicines, and for the Indian government to protect innovation.

Ranjit Shahani
Vice-Chairman & Managing Director, Novartis India Limited

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First Published: Tue, April 02 2013. 00:34 IST