Indian community organisations file first opposition against patent application

On 30 March 2006, the Indian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (INP+) and the Manipur Network of Positive People (MNP+), represented by the Lawyers’ Collective HIV/AIDS Unit officially submitted their opposition to a patent application filed in the Kolkata patent office by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for Combivir (fixed dose AZT/3TC). The opposition was based on technical and health grounds.

“We are objecting to the patenting of Combivir because it is not a new invention but simply the combination of two existing drugs. More importantly, the granting of such a patent risks increasing the cost of anti-retroviral treatment for many people living with HIV/AIDS thereby further increasing the burden on developing countries already struggling to treat patients,” said K.K. Abraham, President of INP+.

Combivir is a widely used fixed dose combination and is used extensively in projects run by international aid organisation Medecins sans Frontiers (MSF). Almost all the Combivir used by MSF is generic. India, Burkina Faso, Mongolia, Central African Republic, Malawi, Peru, the Republic of Kyrgizstan, Cambodia, Ukraine and Swaziland are other countries also identified by the Global Fund as using generic Combivir.

Patents create monopolies on drug manufacture and prevent the production of such affordable generic alternatives. The availability of affordable quality generic versions of Combivir and other anti-retroviral medicines has allowed developing country governments to put more people on treatment and thus extend their lives. In India alone there are 5.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS many of whom receive generic drugs under the national HIV/AIDS treatment program.

“Decisions made by Indian patent offices are a question of life or death for people living with HIV/AIDS who rely on the availability of affordable AIDS drugs and other essential medicines made by Indian generic manufacturers,” explains Anand Grover, Director of Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit.

Last year, India changed its patent law to comply with the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS Agreement that governs trade agreements and intellectual property rights. Three weeks ago, India granted its first ever patent on a drug to a hepatitis C treatment produced by Roche. Public interest groups are deeply concerned this will set a precedent leading to the patenting of other essential medicines including antiretrovirals.

“Besides Combivir there are other patent applications of essential medicines waiting to be approved or rejected, including other antiretrovirals and drugs for treating mental illness, tuberculosis and opportunistic infections” said Tahir Amin, an intellectual property lawyer with the Bangalore based Alternative Law Forum.

However, the new Indian Patent law allows oppositions to a patent application before it is granted. Indian cancer patients and generic drug manufacturers recently opposed a Novartis patent application for Gleevec, an anti-cancer drug, on the grounds that the application claimed a new form of an old drug. The patent was subsequently rejected by the patent office. Petitioners are now demanding that the Combivir patent application be rejected on similar grounds.

Source: Community press release: Indian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (INP+), Lawyers’ Collective HIV/AIDS Unit, Manipur Network of Positive People (MNP+)

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