17 February 2014Americas

MSF criticises US pressure on Indian patent policy

Humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has criticised the US for pressuring the Indian government to review its patent policies.

In a testimony to the US International Trade Commission (ITC) public hearing on trade investment and industrial policies in India, MSF’s director of policy and analysis Rohit Malpani urged the ITC to “evaluate the decisions made by the Indian government under international trade rules, taking in consideration its impact on public health.”

He said that MSF strongly objects to the pressure from the US on developing countries, including India, “for using legal flexibilities to protect public health”.

India’s patent law and judiciary are under pressure for policies that MSF considers “entirely in line with its obligations” as a member of the World Trade Organization, he added.

Describing India as the “pharmacy to the developing world”, Malpani said that India’s role in the treatment scale continues to be “critical”, and that governments “rely heavily” on the country as a source of quality generic medicines.

India is trying to strike a balance between “providing intellectual property protection and having the flexibility to protect the constitutional right to health”, by defining strict patentability criteria (which he says is in line with international trade rules), and planning to issue compulsory licenses.

Treatment providers are already seeing the impact of the thousands of patents that were issued in India between 2005 and 2008, which he said delayed generic competition and kept newer medicines out of affordable reach.

However, MSF recognises the need to reward innovation, he said: “R&D is important, and someone needs to pay.

“The reality is that relying on high prices for medicines, backed up by intellectual property monopolies, is a flawed paradigm to pay for medical innovation,” he added.

“We basically have a trade off between innovation and access.”

At the same hearing, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America’s (PhRMA’s) senior vice president for international affairs Rod Hunter highlighted the industry’s concerns around India’s patent policies.

India’s IP environment does not value innovation, he said.

“Despite our member companies’ best efforts to engage in a productive dialogue with the Indian government about the critical link between innovation and patient health, the innovative biopharmaceutical industry continues to face significant barriers in that market,” he added.

The Indian government had created a “protectionist regime that harms US job creators”, he said. However, “where the US has welcomed Indian companies … India is closing its borders to US innovators,” he added.

“While the Indian government seeks to grow its domestic generic pharmaceutical industry by undermining innovation (local and foreign), US innovative biopharmaceutical companies are merely seeking a level playing field,” Hunter continued.

India’s actions have consequences within India, he added: “It is well established that developing countries gain from high-quality and high-quantity technology transfers associated with foreign direct investment.”

But weak IP protection directly discourages such R&D, he added.

He noted that many innovative companies, to ensure their therapies are accessible to patients, have developed patient access programmes. He cited India’s rejection on Novartis’ patent on Glivec, even though Novartis provided free access for 95 percent of the Glivec patients in India.

“Our industry, the US economy, and the future of innovation cannot afford to let India continue on this path that discourages new opportunities, new knowledge, and new medicines in India and around the world,” Hunter concluded.

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