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NGOs trash MNCs' patent argument

Joe C. Mathew  |  New Delhi 

The foreign multinational drug majors have a poor track record in Research &Development (R&D) investment in India.
This has prompted public health groups to call the concerns of Swiss drug major Novartis that inadequacies in Indian patent law will have negative consequences for patients and public health in India as "bogus".
The groups say that while foreign multinationals spend less than one per cent of their sales revenues from the country on R&D in India, leading Indian companies earmark 5 per cent to 10 per cent of their turnover for research expense.
The public groups also feel that the multinationals' strategy to delay the introduction of new drugs in India (a strategy Abbott recently adopted in Thailand) cannot work in India due to the strengths of domestic generic industry.
"They do not conduct research on diseases specific to developing world. They cannot resist the one-billion plus market of India by delaying the entry of a new drug. If at all they fail to patent them in the country or delay its marketing registration, Indian companies can reverse engineer any new molecule. All this talk about patients suffering due to a legitimate patent law is bogus," Y K Sapru, Cancer Patients Aid Association says.
Quoting the new drug approval statistics, Mira Shiva, All India Drugs Action Network feels that real innovation is lacking in the drug discovery space. "Most of them are semi-me-too drugs. Why should India offer patents to those products?" she said.
The R&D investment of multinational drug firms has been negligible as compared to their turnover during 1999-2005.
Apart from Pfizer, which has been increasing its R&D spend, no other company including Novartis, Merck, Abbott, Wyeth or Fulford have spent in excess of $1 million on R&D in India during this period. R&D expenses as percentage of sales are also dismal with Pfizer and Astrazeneca being exceptions.

First Published: Thu, August 09 2007. 00:00 IST