MSF wants Indian PM to stand up to Big Pharma peer pressure

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Western drugmakers have long struggled with India's populist attitude toward patents, and hoped there would be some light at the end of the tunnel with the latest spate of trade negotiations over generic drugs in the country. But Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a vocal critic of Big Pharma's patent tactics, is none too pleased with the proposed trade changes. The medical charity is again urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to adopt a similar attitude and stand up to international pressure.

Changes to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a proposed free-trade deal between Southeast Asian countries and countries including India, China and Japan, would "severely restrict" India's ability to produce generic meds, unfairly giving multinational drugmakers the upper hand, MSF said in a statement. Under Japan's proposed changes, companies could get away with "evergreening" or making small changes to existing meds to extend their patent monopoly, and requiring expensive clinical trials before local drugmakers could produce generic copies.

"We shudder at the thought that we could lose everything and that multinational pharmaceutical industry could succeed in gutting generic competition from India so that profit reigns above people's lives," Leena Menghaney, South Asia Director for MSF's Access Campaign, said in a statement.

This is not the first time MSF has appealed to Modi. The charity last year asked the prime minister not to back down on drug patents when Modi traveled to the U.S. to meet with officials, saying "every country has the right to set policies that balance private business interests with public health needs," MSF wrote in an op-ed. The charity gets a number of meds from India to treat diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria, and more than 80% of the drugs its uses for its HIV projects come are Indian generics.

But drugmakers are less than thrilled with India's patent policies, which many see as a threat to business. Companies such as Novartis ($NVS), Bayer and Pfizer ($PFE) are all feeling the sting of generic copycats after the country's high court allowed cheap versions of the drugmakers' top selling meds. Last month, Merck ($MRK) scored a rare victory against India's Glenmark, as the country highest court blocked the generics company from marketing cheap copycats of diabetes meds Januvia and Janumet in the country.

Still, more patent reform could lie ahead under Modi's stewardship. The prime minister has shown a pro-business attitude since winning election last year, and Western drugmakers are hoping for new policy changes that would help, rather than hinder, business.

- read the MSF release
- here's the Reuters story

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