Sunday, August 12, 2007

Can't build a better mousetrap in India?

So the Indian Patent office has refused to grant IP protection to the beta crytsal form of Glivec (Gleevec). Recently the high court in India refused to rule on a motion filed by Novartis stating that NVS should pursue the matter with the WTO appeals process (for which the Swiss government would have to become involved) rather than the Indian courts (Novartis can proceed with an appeal with India's Intellectual Property Appellate Board). More details can be found here.

While the beta crystal form may be marginal innovation at best, India should have granted patent protection to the initial version of Glivec - however at the the WTO rules had not kicked in at the time and the government there was pretty much looking out for their generic drug makers.

However sound the Indian Patent Office's judgment regarding incremental innovation in this matter may be - it better be prepared to face the unintended consequences of its decision. Under the new WTO IP regime, Indian drug makers are bracing for more competition from western multinationals. Many generic drug makers are trying to develop new molecules instead of making copycats of big pharma's gems. Take the intriguing case of Sun Pharma Advanced Research (SPARC). According to this Economic Times (an Indian newspaper) article, many of this company's Phase II molecules are incremental improvements on compounds from big pharma. For instance these guys are working on new forms of the anti-epilepsy medication Neurontin. The Indians could get a taste of their own medicine, if say the Swiss government were to deny IP protection to SPARC's "innovative" version of Neurontin or if SPARC's patents were challenged in India itself on the basis of the treatment Glivec has received there.

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