The world’s largest maker of low cost medicine, India, has been called “the pharmacy of the developing world.” India produces about 40% of generic drugs and exports more than 50% of high-quality and affordable generic medicine around the world. However, the United States and Europe are trying to block India from making low-priced generic medicines by claiming and lobbying against violation of patent and intellectual property rights. What we see from the US and Europe’s pharmaceutical firm is the evergreening. They want to lock out generic productions by setting strict intellectual property standards in order to secure patents to sell medicine at a high price.
Trade-related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement, and access to drugs in developing countries, continue to be the pharmaceutical market’s most controversial issue. One recent and important court case was the blood cancer drug for leukemia called Glivec. The key issue here revolved around the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, who seeked to extend intellectual property protection on their new drug, Glivec. The Supreme Court of India rejected the patent because the drug was not substantially different from the generic version and did not passed the novelty test. After this incident, Indian lawmakers inserted a provision in the Patents Act, which is to serve as a check against “evergreening.”
According to the World Health Organization, one third of the world’s population does not have access to essential drugs. India’s generic drug industry plays a critical role in public health, providing access to affordable to medicine. India’s pharmaceuticals have significantly contributed to lower medical treatment and have provided life saving treatment for HIV, tuberculosis and cancer by more than 90% around the globe. Furthermore, India’s generic companies produce major HIV and AIDS treatment drugs for $365 dollars a year while brand name pharmaceutical companies charge almost $12,000 a year. Leukemia patients have to consume 4 to 8 pills a day. The generic alternatives cost $175 a month while western Glivec costs $1900 a month. If medicines increasingly become patented, and India’s generic medicines are blocked, medicine are too expensive to buy and more people will get sick.
When pharmaceutical companies develop a new drug, it must have been for the purpose of curing disease and preventing the spread of illness, but unfortunately we are starting to lose these ethical values. With globalization and development of new technologies, individual rights, patents and protection on intellectual property become valued more than providing common good (such as providing access to affordable drugs in developing countries). For developing countries, buying generic drugs is the best way to save money rather than purchasing brand named drugs. We must recognize the vast income difference and gap between developed countries and developing countries, and medicine “for people not profit.”
1) Barton John, TRIPS And The Global Pharmaceutical Market (2004)
2) Reich Michael, The Global Drug Gap (2000)