November 8, 2012
In the beginning of November, the Bench of Intellectual Property Appellate Board in India set aside a product patent by Roche for Pegasys (a medicine used to treat Hepatitis C) on an appeal filed by a patients’ group.
A product patent on a medicine allows the patentee to prevent others from making or selling the medicine. This means that the patentee is able to set monopolistic prices. In the case of Pegasys, Roche charges over 6,000 Euro for a course of six-months’ treatment.
The case was filed by the Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust representing Hepatits C patients in India. Justice Sridevan of the IPAB noted that the revocation of a patent could bring down the costs of the medicine as well as increase supply. She also held that public interest is persistently present in intellectual property law. By setting aside the patent, this order now paves the way for Indian companies that may decide to launch similar medicines against Hepatitis C in India.
Hepatitis C represents a huge public health problem in India and globally. An estimated 10–12 million people in India, including 50% of injecting drug users, are infected with the Hepatitis C virus. Left untreated, Hepatitis C can lead to liver cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure.
The Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit, which assisted Sankalp, calls this verdict a landmark victory for patients’ groups fighting against patents to ensure access to medicines. The case also shows that a patients’ group can succesfully challenge the validity of granted patents.
The director of Sankalp, Eldred Tellis, said, “We hope that the absence of patent barriers will spur generic competition to bring down the price of this much-needed drug for those suffering from Hepatitis C. We also hope that the Government will now take concrete steps to start providing access to this medicine. It is unacceptable that people are dying due to Hepatitis C because they cannot afford to buy the medicine.”
Anand Grover, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and Director of the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit, said: “This victory will facilitate early entry of generics which is likely to lower the prices. If this happens, millions suffering from Hepatitis C, both in India and globally, will benefit.”