Pfizer takes Indian patent fight to Capitol Hill

Should the U.S. use expiring import duties to twist India's arm on drug patents? As certain trade benefits come up for renewal in July, industry leaders trooped to Capitol Hill to testify about India's newly "protectionist" regime--and its revoked patents and compulsory licenses.

As Reuters notes, the hearings come as certain trade preferences for India come up for renewal in July. "I want to ensure that U.S. job creators can compete there on a level playing field," Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairman of the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee, told the news service.

And a level playing field it's not these days, Pfizer's chief intellectual property counsel told the subcommittee yesterday. India has instituted policies that favor domestic drugmakers over multinationals, he said. "India has essentially created a protectionist regime that harms U.S. job creators," Pfizer's Roy Waldron said (as quoted by Reuters).

Pfizer ($PFE), of course, suffered the loss of IP protections on its cancer drug Sutent when Indian patent officials decided last year to revoke its patent. Bayer is fighting cheap copies of its cancer treatment Nexavar, allowed onto the market by a government-issued compulsory license.

Meanwhile, Roche's ($RHHBY) patent coverage on the hepatitis C treatment Pegasys has been revoked there. Novartis ($NVS) is still fighting for patent protection on its blood cancer treatment Gleevec. And the Indian government has moved toward compulsory licenses on Roche's Herceptin and Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) Sprycel.

Indian officials and public health advocates say Big Pharma's prices on these lifesaving drugs are too high. Most Indians can't afford those treatments. But drugmakers say their IP needs protections; otherwise, innovation will be threatened. Some have made their own moves to supply cheaper versions of their meds; Roche, for instance, has teamed up with Emcure Pharmaceuticals on lower-cost brands of Herceptin and MabThera.

Waldron asked the subcommittee to open talks with India over the drug-patent changes and to "review all available policy tools" to pressure the country. The system of duty waivers that's now under discussion may not be the best tool for effecting change, experts told the news service, but the U.S. might want to challenge more of India's policies at the World Trade Organization.

- read the Reuters news