Basel, 8 August 2007 — The international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) delivered a petition with over 420,000 names to Novartis corporate headquarters in Basel today. Novartis lost a legal challenge against India’s patent law on Monday.
“Monday’s court decision in India is critical for us as doctors, who now feel confident that we will be able to continue to rely on India as a source of affordable medicines for our patients,” said Dr. Christophe Fournier, International President of MSF. “We are pleased to hear that Novartis does not intend to appeal this decision. And we call on the company to refrain from pushing for a challenge of the Indian Patents Act at the World Trade Organization or otherwise.”
Novartis challenged a provision in India’s Patents Act that makes it more difficult for companies to receive patents on changes to existing drugs or combinations of drugs, claiming that this was not compliant with WTO rules and with the Indian constitution. The court rejected all of Novartis’s claims. If the company had won, drug patents would have likely been granted far more widely in India, restricting generic competition.
“We would like to express sincere gratitude to everyone who contributed to the global mobilization against Novartis’s legal challenge in India,” said Dr. Fournier. “Hundreds of thousands of people on six continents made this happen and were a part of helping maintain India’s role as pharmacy of the developing world.”
Developing countries and international agencies like UNICEF and the Clinton Foundation rely heavily on importing affordable drugs from India, and 84% of the AIDS drugs MSF prescribes to its patients worldwide come from Indian generic companies.
“Novartis has expressed concern that this ruling will have a negative impact on innovation,” said Pere-Joan Pons, Campaigner with MSF in Switzerland. “But the reality is that stronger patent regimes have not lead to the development of drugs and medical tools desperately needed by people in poor countries.”
A World Health Organization report released in April 2006 found that increased intellectual property protection in developing countries had not led to higher levels of research and development (R&D) for diseases that primarily affect the developing world. It is crucial that there is support for international discussions on new ways to foster R&D that responds to health needs and at the same time ensures that medical innovations are affordable. “
We hope that the ruling upholding India’s patent law sets a precedent, and that other countries decide to enact rules that increase both access to needed medicines and the development of new treatments so desperately needed in the developing world,” said Pons.