‘Secretive’ patent talks is worrying generic drug activists

By ARADHNA WAL, DNA |April 25, 2016

As a round of massive free trade talks kick off on April 25, civil society groups have raised alarm after a leaked documents showed proposals that would make access to generic medicines far tougher than Bitter pill 

Yet another cloud hangs over the Indian generics industry, with the country is likely to come under further pressure to toughen its patent laws.


As a round of massive free trade talks kick off in Perth Australia on April 25, civil society groups have raised alarm after a leaked documents regarding intellectual property showed proposals that would make access to generic medicines far tougher than required by international trade rules.

The South Asian chapter of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the global aid organisation known as Doctors without Borders, via its Access Campaign called on the Indian government to keep resisting proposals that would “limit access to affordable medicines for people in Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos who depend on Indian generics”.

Speaking to the media, the South Asia head of the Access Campaign Leena Menghaney, said that India could find itself alone in its corner. Which is why MSF has extended its support to India, said Menghaney, as its generic industry supplies two-third of all the drugs MSF purchases to treat HIV, TB and malaria are generic medicines. For example, 97% of HIV medicines used by MSF to treat 230,000 are from India.

The proposals pushing for longer patent terms and data exclusivity come mainly from South Korea and Japan, and are being seen as a way to bring the tougher rules under Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TIPP) and the Tans Pacific Partnership to India.

Similar to the other two, RCEP is a series of free trade talks, thus being the 12th round, between Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. Unlike the other two, it will be the world’s largest trading bloc and will affecting a larger number of people — 3.5 billion — and 12% of the world’s trade, especially in terms of affordable healthcare.

Southeast Asia, especially, is a matter of concern because of its rising disease burden, both of communicable and non-communicable disease.

The Indian parliament, as MSF and lawyer Anand Grover pointed out, has previously resolved to resist patent laws that favour big pharmaceuticals. India has previously rejected extension of patent terms and data exclusivity, the latter of which will make it impossible for generic companies to access any data related to a drug, putting the enormous burden of doing clinical and rug trials from scratch on them. It will disallow cheaper generics from entering the market, even for drugs that are off patent, or do not deserve one as MSF said.

MSF, quoting studies from different parts of the world, said data exclusivity has shown dramatic rise in the prices of medicines.

What worries civil society watchdogs this time around is the utter secrecy of the talks. Grover said what will parliamentarians do if they don’t know what is going on. MSF also pointed out that India needs a strong negotiating team, stronger than the current one.

India has long been in the free-trade blocs’ bad books for its stand on patent laws, with authorities routinely rejecting patents to companies for essential drugs, such as to Novartis for its cancer medicine. However, of late it has been feeling the international lobby’s pressure, with generic companies backing out of legal battles to be able to manufacture cheaper drugs, instead signing voluntary licences with foreign pharma to reproduce their drugs under restrictive conditions.

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