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Solheim urges Novartis not to challenge Indian Patent Act

Erik Solheim

Erik Solheim  

Special Correspondent

Praises India's contribution to life-saving generic drug

Shared interest in a universal trading system Life and health are our most precious assets

NEW DELHI: Norwegian Minister of International Development Erik Solheim has urged Novartis to withdraw its case against India, challenging a clause of the Indian Patent (Amendment) Act, which does not grant patents to medicines that are new forms of an existing drug or ``ever-greened'' rather than innovations.

Last year, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF) had made a similar appeal to the Swiss company as its legal challenge could restrict access to affordable medicines in the developing world. HIV/AIDS advocacy groups and the pharma company's shareholders have also called on the company to withdraw the case filed before the Madras High Court.

Leukaemia drug

Novartis is contesting the Patent Office's refusal to give patent to its leukaemia drug on the ground that it was ``ever greened.'' It could become a litmus test for companies seeking to reserve their drugs through patents. In a letter to Novartis chief Daniel Vasella, the Norwegian Minister said: ``India contributes in very significant ways to the overall production capacity for life saving generic drugs, with major exports to developing countries. It is important for global health that this contribution can continue. I, therefore, strongly encourage you to seek a solution in the current case that adequately addresses these concerns. I will encourage you to consider to withdraw your case against India.''

Pointing out that there is a shared interest in a universal, rule-based, open, non-discriminatory and multilateral trading system that, at the same time, can support global health security, the Minister said, ``Building in public health safeguards in national patent laws to ensure that patents do not limit access to medicines is a right of every country. The cost of innovation cannot be borne by countries and people with the weakest economic capacity."

Long-term challenges

``Health is one of the most important long-term international challenges of our time. Life and health are our most precious assets. Investment in health is fundamental to economic growth and development. Therefore, international trade policies and agreements need to be placed within the context of protecting and promoting health and well-being... global health security is depending on each country having the capacity to safeguard public health," adds the letter.

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