Novartis case: Media hail 'key victory' for India

- In this Dec. 21, 2012 file photo, an Indian activist from a health group holds a placard while participating in a protest against Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG outside their office in Mumbai, India.
Image caption Many poor people rely on India's generic drug industry

India's media have hailed the Supreme Court's court's rejection of a plea by Novartis to patent an updated version of its cancer drug, Glivec.

The media said the decision was a "key victory" for generic drug makers.

The Swiss drugmaker had been denied a patent on the grounds that the new version was only slightly different from the old.

The decision means generic drugmakers can continue to sell copies of the drug at a lower price in India

India is one of the fastest growing pharmaceutical markets.

Novartis has said Monday's decision "discourages future innovation in India".

The ruling "could ripple through the developing world and affect the fundamentals of the pharmaceutical revenue model," The Indian Express said in an editorial.

The newspaper said the Supreme Court ruling had "clarified that it does not mean no minor variations are patentable - that assessment depends on the therapeutic efficacy".

But, it said, the judgement has left some "key questions" open.

"For instance, would reduced toxicity [of the drug] be considered a factor in measuring efficacy, and if so, does the lower dosage required due to better bio-availability contribute to this?

"These ambiguities should be resolved to the extent possible, if India is to have a balanced and clear policy on pharmaceutical innovation."

The Times of India said the ruling drew a "huge sigh of relief from thousands of patients in India and in dozens of developing countries as the fear of an almost 15-fold escalation of drug costs receded".

"It is the biggest setback for multinational pharma companies, which have been denied patent protection for a series of life-saving drugs in recent years," the newspaper said.

The Hindu described the ruling as a "just order".

"The decision affirms the idea that a patent regime loses its social relevance when a drug is priced beyond the reach of the vast majority of a country's people," the newspaper said.

The newspaper said it would be a "gross distortion" to paint the ruling as an "innovation killer".

"There is evidence to show that major pharma companies recover more than the cost of innovation of a drug in a single year from the United States market alone," the newspaper said.

The Economic Times echoed a similar sentiment, saying that the verdict did not harm innovation.

"Drug companies who want to see in the verdict a generalised case for weakening patents are in denial," said the paper in an editorial.

"Drug multinationals should rethink their strategy of keeping nominal rates of patented drugs high while giving away large volumes of expensive drugs for public relations purposes, and welcome price control instead."

The Telegraph said "Big Pharma was fuming at the ears and support groups for poor patients were sighing in relief" after the Supreme Court ruling.

The decision, added the newspaper, "cements the role of local companies as big suppliers of inexpensive generics to India's rapidly growing $13 billion-a-year drugs market and large parts of the developing world."

More on this story