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To Patent or Not-A Question of Life

Giant drug makers Novartis, is filing a petition against a court ruling that seeks to stop the patenting of one of its anti-cancer drugs. //

What makes this news significant is that its outcome will determine the quality of life for an AIDS patient; a nightmare or a manageable crisis.

Novartis is backing its right to patent a modified version of its drug Glivec produced in India, used to treat leukemia. If it wins its case this will mean the cost of the drug shooting to almost ten times its present value and a move towards more stringent rules on drug patenting.

This in turn will lead to drugs used for treating cancers and AIDS, as like ARV or anti retroviral drugs, being patented too, making it much more costlier and hence out of reach for millions of poor AIDS sufferers in developing countries.

At present people across developing countries are protesting this move.

India has been an important source of affordable generic medicines for quite a while. This being because it did not grant pharmaceutical patents until 2005, when it was forced to comply with World Trade Organization rules on intellectual property.

A lot of generic drugs used for treating AIDS are produced in India. The same holds for Brazil and Thailand.

This makes such drugs affordable and able to be used in international programs for the treatment of AIDS.

Says Dr. Unni Karunakara a director with Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian agency, ”Novartis is trying to shut down the pharmacy of the developing world”.

This he says will prevent the supply of affordable AIDS drugs to developing countries resulting in millions of people stranded without life saving drugs.

In defense Novartis says that patents enable income needed for drug research and production. The company says that AIDS affected persons soon grow resistant to antiretroviral drugs and newer ones need to be developed. This needs money and that ca n be derived through patenting of drugs.

Yet for many people across developing countries the ruling expected from the Chennai High Court of India will be waited for, with crossed fingers.

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