From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutheran Leaders Join Call to Protect India's Drug Patent Laws

Date Thu, 15 Feb 2007 13:15:46 -0600

Title: Lutheran Leaders Join Call to Protect India's Drug Patent Laws ELCA NEWS SERVICE

February 15, 2007

Lutheran Leaders Join Call to Protect India's Drug Patent Laws 07-022-FI

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), and the Rev. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, have joined other Christian leaders asking the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis to drop its law suit challenging the patent laws of India.

"This case is about commitment to the right to health," Hanson said. "It is about the responsibility of governments to protect the health of their citizens and the right of countries to give priority to public health over the private interests of corporations."

India refused Novartis' patent application for a cancer medicine, Gleevec, on the grounds that the medicine was simply a new form of an old medicine. India's law states it is not possible to patent "the mere discovery of a new form of a known substance which does not result in the enhancement of the known efficacy of that substance," according to a news release from the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), Geneva, Switzerland.

Novartis challenged the decision, the law and India's handling of international trade rules on intellectual property.

Where Novartis has a patent for Gleevec, it sells for $2,600 per patient per month, according to the EAA release. In India, generic versions of the drug sell for less than $200 per patient per month, it said.

"Novartis' proclaimed mission is 'to ease suffering and to enhance the quality of life,' but this case is not about prioritizing life. It has every appearance of protecting wealthy corporate interests at the expense of the health of millions for whom access to affordable medicines is a matter of life and death," said Noko, Geneva.

The decision in this case will affect access to thousands of other medicines in India, including anti-retroviral (ARV) medicines to treat HIV, the EAA said. Medicines manufactured in India are imported by many developing countries. More than half the medicines currently used for HIV and AIDS treatment in developing countries come from India, it said.

Dr. Prawate Khid-arn, general secretary, Christian Conference of Asia, Muang, Thailand, said, "Patent applications have been made in India for many second-line ARVs. However many of the applications are based on existing chemical entities. They are, therefore, 'new forms of known substances,' just like Gleevec," he said.

"This case is not just about patenting one drug in India," said Albert Petersen, chair, Ecumenical Pharmaceutical Network (EPN), Nairobi, Kenya. "The result of the court case will be of great importance for the future of Thailand's health program. The fear is that Thailand won't be able to get the generic versions from India any more if Novartis wins, and it will take time until the Thai pharmaceutical industry is able to fill that gap," he said.

"People, not profits, must be at the center of patent law for medicines," said the Most Rev. Desmond Tutu, Anglican archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, Southern Africa.

"How can Novartis justify asking for the right to patent changes to a medicine that bring no new benefit?" asked the Most Rev. Yvon Ambroise, chair, Commission for Justice, Peace and Development, Catholic Bishops Conference of India, Thoothukudi. "We support practices that encourage and reward real innovation and progress in improving the health of people in need. We condemn practices that trivialize innovation for the sake of maximizing corporate profits," he said. -- -- --

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance is an international network of churches and Christian organizations cooperating in advocacy on global trade and HIV and AIDS. Its home page is at on the Web.

For information contact:

John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or ELCA News Blog:

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