Generic drugs available at one-tenth the cost of their patented counterparts for blood cancer have helped many patients continue their battle against the disease, said city doctors, while welcoming the Supreme Court judgment which rejected Swiss pharma giant Novartis AG’s plea to patent Glivec, a drug given to patients suffering from blood cancer.
“When Glivec was introduced in the market, not many patients were able to take it despite knowing its effectiveness as it was too expensive. What is the point of a drug which patients can’t afford?” said Dr S Banavali who is the head of paediatric department at Tata Memorial Hospital, Parel. “The research done at our hospital shows that generic drugs have the same effect as patented ones, and hence they are a boon for patients,” he said.
The Cancer Patients Aid Association was the first agency to challenge the Glivec’s patent in the 1990s. “With this judgment, we will not have to pay exorbitantly for old drugs that have been reintroduced with a slight change, especially when it is a matter of life and death,” said YK Sapru, founder-chairman, CPAA.
Oncologists said those suffering from chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of blood cancer, need to take the drug every day throughout life. “A month-long course of Glivec will cost around Rs. 1.5 lakh but its generic versions cost between Rs. 6,000 and Rs. 8,000,” added Sapru.
Dr Rajeev Boudhankar, vice president, Kohinoor hospital, described the judgment as a benchmark model for patents in developing countries. “Had Novartis won the case, it would have made healthcare very costly in India,” said Boudhankar. “It would have opened floodgates for multinationals to file patents for even molecules, which are not new inventions but slight modifications with questionable efficacy,” he added.
Dr Ganpathi Bhat, medical oncologist, Jaslok hospital, Peddar Road, said companies producing generic drugs are needed, but the authorities should also ensure the quality, dose and purity of the product is closely monitored.