Govt private assurance on compulsory licensing worrying: MSF

Published: Business Standard| Source: PTI, March 15, 2016

Expressing concern over Indian government giving ‘private assurances’ to USIBC to not invoke compulsory licensing for commercial purposes, global aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) today said such a move defeats legislative intent of public health safeguards.

The organisation, also known as Doctors Without Borders, accused US India Business Council (USIBC) and other pharma lobbies for working to discourage government and courts in India from using legal tools available under both domestic patent law and international trade rules.

“Any commitment to stop granting compulsory licences and enforce patent law safeguards will defeat the legislative intent of the public health safeguards that are enshrined in India’s patent law, and which were globally welcomed by the United Nations, MSF and developing country governments in 2005,” MSF Access Campaign Regional Head-South Asia Leena Menghaney said in a statement.

Such a commitment will encourage multinational drug companies to start charging unaffordable prices to Indian patients and governments across the developing world, further undermining access to critical, and life-saving products, she added.

“For almost a decade, India has championed affordable access to medicines by setting strict patentability standards and issuing compulsory licences, both of which are legal tools available to all governments under the TRIPS Agreement,” Menghaney said.

These legal tools have never been as crucial as they are today as the Indian patent office considers patent applications on new life-saving medicines to treat infectious diseases – such as sofosbuvir or dolutegravir for hepatitis C and HIV- and on critical vaccines like the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, she added.

It had emerged last week that government had “privately reassured” USIBC that India would not invoke ‘compulsory licensing’ for commercial purposes that could allow local drug makers to make cheaper products by overriding patents of big global players.

“Despite compulsory licensing denials, industry continues to be concerned by the potential threat of compulsory licensing. The Government of India has privately reassured…(that) it would not use Compulsory Licenses for commercial purposes,” the USIBC had said in the submission to the US Trade Representative.

The Indian Patent Office had granted compulsory licensing for the first time in March 2012 to permit Hyderabad-based Natco Pharma to manufacture and sell cancer-treatment drug Nexavar at a fraction of the price charged by its patent-holder Bayer Corporation.

The order, which provided great relief to the kidney and liver cancer patients, was issued by India Patents Office as a ‘Compulsory Licence’ under Section 84 of the Indian Patent Act, which is in compliance with the TRIPS agreement of the World Trade Organisation.

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