India hits Roche's Herceptin in latest blow to Big Pharma patents

India's patent-strikedown campaign has another victim: Roche's breast cancer drug Herceptin. The Kolkata Patent Office pulled divisional patents for the drug, saying they hadn't been properly submitted, Reuters reports. The news comes on the heels of GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) losing a key patent on another breast cancer drug, Tykerb.

A Roche ($RHHBY) spokesman confirmed the blow to Herceptin's IP protections, first reported by the Swiss newspaper Schweiz am Sonntag. "[W]e are now considering the further course of action," the spokesman told the news service.

The Swiss drugmaker has already lost one big patent fight in the country. India pulled its patent on the hepatitis C drug Pegasys last year. But the Herceptin move is a bit odd, considering that it's one of the drugs Roche has teamed up to produce in India, in partnership with domestic drugmaker Emcure Pharmaceuticals. A year ago, the partnership said it would roll out cheaper versions of Herceptin and MabThera, known elsewhere as Rituxan. Roche recently said it would cut Herceptin's price in India by 31%, to $1,366 per month.

Indian patent authorities are looking for ways to push cheap versions of branded treatments onto the market, to increase access to treatment for the country's poor. Officials granted a compulsory license on Bayer's cancer drug Nexavar, allowing local drugmaker Natco Pharma to produce a cut-rate generic, and then yanked a series of patents from other meds, including Roche's Pegasys and a Merck ($MRK) asthma drug. Pfizer ($PFE) also lost its Sutent patent, but an appeals board in June asked the patent office to reconsider that decision.

Meanwhile, Indian courts denied patent protection to Novartis' ($NVS) blood cancer treatment Glivec in a tooth-and-nail case that went to the nation's Supreme Court. Patent officials also rejected AstraZeneca's ($AZN) bid for IP protections on its cancer drug Iressa. And the government says it's considering more compulsory licenses, for Herceptin, and Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) leukemia drug Sprycel and breast cancer drug Ixempra.

- read the Reuters news

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