On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will start hearing in a case that could decide the cost of treating HIV/Aids in the country.
The petition has been filed by pharmaceutical company Novartis challenging Section 3 (d) of the Patents Act, which states that mere discovery of a new form of a known substance is not an invention and therefore a patent cannot be granted, unless the new form differs significantly with regards to efficacy.
The Swiss company is seeking a patent for anti-cancer drug imatinib mesylate — a beta crystalline salt form of imatinib — citing improved efficacy.
“If the decision is in favour of Novartis, many drugs will become patentable, including HIV drugs. This will impact India and other developing countries,” said Leena Menghaney, manager of Medecins Sans Frontieres access campaign.
Menghaney added, “There are about six million Indians on Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) of which 80% use Indian drugs. We cannot be dependent on patented drugs.” ART comprises a combination of drugs in the first line of treatment of HIV positive patients.
“Before Indian manufacturers started making HIV/Aids drugs, the cost was Rs5 lakh annually for each patient. Post-2000, it reduced to Rs3,000 per patient a year,” said Manoj Pardeshi from the Maharashtra Network of Positive People. Raltegravir, a patented ART drug used in third line of treatment, costs Rs1.3 lakh.