India’s Supreme Court has rejected a plea by Novartis to patent an updated version of its cancer drug, Glivec. The Swiss drugmaker had been denied a patent by Indian authorities on the grounds that the new version was only slightly different from the old.
There were concerns that a patent could threaten access to cheap generic versions of drugs in poorer countries. But some Western companies had warned that a decision against Novartis could discourage investment in research. Glivec, which is used to treat chronic myeloid leukaemia and other cancers, costs about $2,600 (£1,710) a month. The generic equivalent is currently available in India for just $175.
Anand Grover, a lawyer representing Cancer Patients Aid Association, said he was “ecstatic with the ruling”. “This will go a long way in providing affordable medicine for the poor,” he said.
Long battle. Novartis applied for a patent in 2006 for its new version of the drug, arguing that it was easier to absorb and therefore qualified for a fresh patent.
However, the Indian patent authority rejected the application based on a law aimed at preventing companies from getting fresh patents by making only minor changes to existing drugs, a practice known as “evergreening”.
Officials also turned down a subsequent appeal by the company three years later. On Monday, India’s Supreme court rejected the firm’s appeal to get patent protection for the drug. The AFP news agency quoted the court as saying that the updated drug “did not satisfy the test of novelty or inventiveness” as required by the law.