By ESHA SHAH, STEPS Centre member

Controversy over the extent to which private pharmaceutical interests can creep into the debates around public good has arisen recently here in India. A technical expert committee constituted by the government of India to look into the patent laws with respect to new pharmaceuticals and micro-organisms recently withdrew its report.

The report, originally submitted in December 2006, was withdrawn following the allegations that it had been influenced by the interests of multinational pharmaceutical companies and the key findings were plagiarised from another report allegedly funded by a UK based think tank (also funded by multination companies).

While lawyers and legal experts debate TRIPs compliance of new patents, the Mashelkar report and its endorsement by some multinational companies raises important issues with respect to public vs private interests, but also what counts as technological innovation. While the legal front is fighting the thin line of control between a new chemical entity and a new medical entity, the social and public health risk of leaving the field of innovation to patentability and market forces needs a substantial debate.

Raising similar issues and responding to the controversy, the Norwegian minister for international development – including Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) and AIDS/HIV advocacy groups – have pleaded with the Norwegian multinational Novartis to withdraw its case against Indian patent law (which is at the heart of the controversy) on humanitarian grounds. If this case goes in Novartis’ favour, it would prove detrimental to the access of cheap AID/HIV drugs in Africa and Asia.

In yet another development related to this case, the former president Bill Clinton “forcefully” endorsed Brazil and Thailand’s decisions to break patents held by the US pharmaceutical companies in the interests of thousands of AIDS/HIV patients.

What this controversy in India and associated statements by the world leaders points at is that the international patent law clearly contradicts the interests and well being of thousands of individuals in need of urgent medical care.

You can see the withdrawn report at www.dipp.nic.in
And you can find out more on the Mashelkar committee report blog.

Look out for more postings on the clash of private and public interests on pharmaceuticals. This post links to a series of blogs that tie in with the STEPS Centre project on risk, uncertainty and new technologies with special reference to India.

One comment:

  1. I think you have a valid point in the article. As India is a developing country and practically I know that many people prefer to buy some medicines from there raher then anywhere else coz the cost factor is high. here is another quick question in general.
    Even though the expenditure for R & D for a new drug is too high, thousands of dollars or may be more and it is a time consuming prosess too. And it is not always sure that the drug will be a success. So why do they do it taking a lot of risks? A lot of money on stake. What is the story behind that.

    Just keen to know about the fundings and all

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