The Supreme Court of India [official website] on Monday rejected [judgment, PDF] efforts by drug maker Novartis AG [company website] to patent an updated version of the company's leukemia-treating drug Glivec. The court reasoned that subject product "beta crystalline form of Imatinib Mesylate (the ingredient in Glivec), fails in both the tests of invention and patentability" and thus, appellant's appeal would merely be an attempt to obtain patent for Imatinib Mesylate which is prohibited under India patent law. In a press release [text], Novartis condemned the Supreme Court's decision stating that the holding, "discourages innovative drug discovery essential to advancing medical science for patients." According to the statement Novartis has been granted patent protection for their new Glivec formula in nearly 40 countries including, Russia and China. The Swiss pharmaceutical company had challenged [Reuters report] Indian patent law that denies patents for newer versions of pre-existing medications. According to Reuters, two Indian companies already produce and sell generic versions of Glivec in the country at one-tenth the cost.
The decision in this case is expected to have a major impact on pharmaceutical patent cases in India. Doctors Without Borders [advocacy website] has hailed the decision [press release] as "a major victory for patients' access to affordable medicines in developing countries." Novartis' case is the most recent in a long line of pharmaceutical patent disputes between western drug companies and India. In March an Indian patent appeals board upheld a decision [Reuters report] to allow a domestic company to produce a generic version of the Bayer AG [corporate website] cancer drug Nexavar. Last year, India revoked patents [WSJ report] for Pfizer Inc's cancer drug Sutent and Roche Holding AG's [corporate websites] hepatitis C drug Pegasys. Both companies have appealed the decisions. Issues around patents on pharmaceutical products are not limited to India.