India patent case threatens cheap drug supply: MSF

Sri Lankan Police forming a human chain in parliament to protect the Speaker and enable a vote.

NEW DELHI, September 5, 2011 (AFP) – Supply of cheap copycat drugs for the developing world could be blocked if Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis wins a challenge to India’s patent law, medical charity MSF said on Monday. “We couldn’t afford to treat them all without these generic drugs,” said Joanna Keenan, spokesman for the Geneva-based charity. The warning came as India’s Supreme Court was due Tuesday to hear more arguments in an appeal by Novartis seeking patent protection for its leukaemia drug Glivec in a case watched closely by the global pharmaceutical industry.

“If the patent law challenge is successful, it would have a devastating impact on access to affordable medicines across the developing world,” said Leena Menghaney, India representative of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

Novartis is “trying to shut down the pharmacy of the developing world,” she said.

The Supreme Court case is the final act in a legal battle between Novartis and patient groups which has stretched over six years in India, where local firms produce generic versions of branded drugs for a fraction of their price.

Pharmaceutical companies argue that protecting patents are crucial to stimulating the research and develop