India, a critical producer of affordable generic medicines, has faced an increasing barrage of intense criticism for its progressive patent law and policies, not only from multinational pharmaceutical companies but also from the United States government.
India’s progressive policies play a key role in enabling its generic manufacturers to compete and produce medicines at affordable prices. Thanks to competition stemming from Indian generics, the price of medicines to treat diseases such as HIV, TB and cancer are down by more than 90 percent from the actual price being offered by the multinational pharma companies; for example, the price of first-line antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs to treat HIV has dropped from more than Rs. 618790 (US$10,000) per person per year being offered by originator company in 2000 to around Rs 8414 (US $136) per person per year today. This significant price cut has helped to scale up expansion of HIV treatment worldwide to nearly 14 million people today.
As the ‘pharmacy of the developing world’, India plays a vital role as a global leader in improving access to affordable medicines across the developing world. Several of India’s BRICS peers like Brazil and South Africa are now looking to India’s patent law for inspiration as they try to reform their own laws to limit abuse of the patent system and improve access to essential medicines.
Indian patent law includes important, internationally sanctioned, public health safeguards that limit abusive patenting practices. The US vehemently opposes the use of these safeguards that enable healthy generic competition which undermines the interests of the US pharmaceutical industry. Routine decisions by India’s patent offices and courts in favour of public health are now being subjected to international scrutiny. Increased political pressure from the US is threatening the very policies that have enabled India to become the ‘pharmacy of the developing world’.
Succumbing to relentless pressure from the US, the Indian government has set up an IP (Intellectual Property) Think Tank that seeks to draft a national IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) policy with the objective to bring more ‘clarity’ to the country’s patent laws. There are fears that setting up such a think tank and bringing out policies over and above the existing patent law would provide a gateway to US and multinational pharmaceutical companies to fulfil its longtime wish of bringing changes in India’s patent laws and policies in favour of corporate interest.
The country now faces a grave public health challenge. It is clear that access to affordable life-saving medicines for millions in the coming years will depend on the Indian government’s decisions and the kind of patent system it endorses.
As a humanitarian medical organisation, MSF also relies on the supply of low cost generic medicines from India to our medical projects. Being a treatment provider, we have witnessed the importance of India’s current patent act which enables us to meet the needs of our patients in India and around the world as affordably and effectively as possible. MSF is concerned about the intense pressure India is currently under and has frequently engaged with the Indian government urging them to continue to align India’s patent law with its public health needs and not to cave in under US pressure.
Read the timeline of US Attacks on Indian Patent Law and generic competition to know more: