|India to Rule on Novartis Patent for Cancer Drug Glivec|
India's Supreme Court is due to rule on a patent case involving Swiss drug company Novartis, which campaigners say could threaten access in poorer countries to cheap generic drugs.
Novartis wants protection for an updated version of cancer drug Glivec.
It is seeking to overturn a decision by Indian officials to refuse a patent on the grounds that the new version was only slightly different from the old.
Medical charities say a Novartis win would set a "dangerous precedent".
Glivec, which is used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia and other cancers, costs about $2,600 (£1,710) a month.
The generic equivalent is currently available in India for just $175.
Novartis applied for a patent in 2006 for its new version of the drug, arguing that it was easier to absorb and therefore qualified for a fresh patent.
The Indian patent authority rejected the application based on a law aimed at preventing companies from getting fresh patents by making only minor changes to existing drugs, a practice known as "ever greening". Officials also turned down an appeal by the company three years later.
Western pharmaceutical companies say that if the Supreme Court rules against Novartis, it will discourage investment in research and in efforts to improve existing drugs.
"Knowing we can rely on patents in India benefits government, industry and patients because research-based organizations will know if investing in the development of better medicines for India is a viable long-term option," a Novartis statement said.
But critics describe the updated version of Glivec as "an obvious, routine modification".
"You could have drug companies claiming one new drug and then patenting it over and over again for routine improvements," said Medecins sans Frontieres lawyer Leena Menghaney.
"If generic competition on many crucial medicines ends, then prices for these medicines will increase, both in India and across the developing world," she added.
"This would be devastating for millions who rely on India for affordable medicines."
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Published on our website on April 1, 2013