Glaxo’s patent on AIDS drug opposed by INP+ in India

Glaxo's patent on AIDS drug opposed by INP+ in India
The World Trade Review: "Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), 16-30 April 2006

Mumbai: People living with HIV/AIDS are taking on drug major GlaxoSmithKline's efforts to patent its AIDS-medicine Combivir in India.

The Manipur Network of Positive People (MNP+), under the aegis of the Indian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (INP+) has filed a pre-grant opposition to GSK's patent application at the Indian Patent office in Kolkata. The pre-grant opposition has been filed for the patient organisations by Lawyers' Collective.

Combivir is the backbone of AIDS therapy and is used in the first-line of treatment, Mr Loon Gangte, a HIV-positive person with INP+, told Business Line. GSK's patent application is being opposed on technical and health grounds, he said.

Combivir is a fixed-dose combination of two existing AIDS drugs – zidovudine and lamivudine, technically that is not a new invention, Mr Gangte said. GSK officials were not available for comment.

A pre-grant opposition allows people to oppose patent applications filed by a company. A decision on the patent is given after the Patent Controller's office hears arguments from different stakeholders. Only recently, the Patent Office in Chennai had rejected Novartis' patent on cancer drug Glivec.

Generic or copycat versions of Combivir are available in India from drug-makers such as Cipla, Ranbaxy, Aurobindo, Emcure and Strides. They are priced at about Rs 1,100 per patient, per month. These drug-makers supply to patients to other developing countries too, he said. GSK's Combivir is not available in the local market, said Ms Priti Radhakrishnan of Lawyers' Collective.

But international aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) purchases it at about $237 per patient per year compared to the cheapest generic at $182, said Ms Leena Menghaney with Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines and MSF.

Generic competition has brought down the price on Combivir-clones. If GSK gets a patent, it becomes a monopoly and could control the price, Mr Gangte said.

Though the present product-patent regime in India may allow Combivir-clones to sell provided they pay a royalty to GSK, there is a risk of a price increase. There is no clarity in the law on the royalty to be paid. Either way a price increase is on the cards, he said.

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