3 March 2015Asia

India focus: Better protection for big pharma?

The last 12 months have brought a lot of change in India. First, a new government, the Bharatiya Janata Party, was voted into office in May 2014 and said straight away it would be focusing on, among other things, intellectual property.

Then, shortly after the election, Nirmala Sitharaman, the new commerce and industry minister, said India would “constructively engage” with the US—a long-term critic of its IP regime—about it.

The US Trade Representative’s annual Special 301 Report had included India on its ‘priority watch list’ (the report assesses US trading partners’ efforts to protect IP, and was released a few weeks before the general election). However, these two developments suggested that fears concerning India’s patent laws, particularly those surrounding pharmaceuticals, might soon be addressed.

One of those fears centred on compulsory licences, with major pharma companies worrying that Indian courts favour providing access to cheaper medicine over protecting patent rights.

Almost three years have passed since what was arguably the catalyst for much of the concern. In 2012, India’s controller general of patents and designs granted Natco Pharma a compulsory licence to produce a generic version of anti-cancer drug Nexavar (sorafenib), made by German pharma company Bayer.

The licence, which at the time enabled Natco to sell the drug at 8,800 rupees ($175) for a month’s dosage, rather than Bayer’s 280,000 rupees, was divisive. Some commentators claimed that it rightfully granted cheaper access to medicine for those who could not afford it, and others claimed it showed a disregard for patent rights.

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