Thu, Jan 25, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Aid groups petition drugmaker over Indian patent battle

AP , MADRID

Spanish branches of aid groups Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontieres on Tuesday handed in a petition with 250,000 signatures to the Spanish headquarters of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, urging the company to drop a patent dispute it is pursuing in India over a popular cancer drug.

Novartis, which makes the anti-leukemia drug Gleevec, has brought the civil case in a bid to prevent Indian firms from making generic versions of the medicine. If Novartis wins, "millions of people throughout the world may be left without essential medicines," Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontieres -- or Doctors Without Frontiers -- said in a statement.

The petition was part of an international campaign being waged by the two aid groups.

Several Indian pharmaceutical companies make generic copies of Gleevec, which is also spelled Glivec, but sell it at a 10th of the US$2,600 price for a monthly dose charged by the Swiss company, the groups say.

The case is to be heard on Jan. 29 in India.

After a small protest outside Novartis offices in the northeastern city of Barcelona, aid group representatives met with company officials. They told reporters later that the meeting was cordial but that Novartis did not intend altering its stance.

On Tuesday, Novartis posted a statement on its Spanish Web site saying it offers Glivec free to 6,500 people in India, or 99 percent of those who receive the drug. The company also claims that generic copies are often put on sale at nearly five times the average Indian yearly salary, pushing it out of reach of the majority of people who need the drug.

MSF and other aid groups are supporting the Cancer Patients Aid Association, which offers treatment to some 40,000 Indian patients and has challenged Novartis' patent claim.

India's new patent law, which came into force Jan. 1, 2005, allows patents for products that represent new inventions after 1995 -- the year India joined the WTO, which regulates patent rules for member countries.

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