India's top court rebuffs Merck, lets generic Januvia roll out

India's Supreme Court is keeping the pressure on Western drugmakers. Just days after invalidating a patent for Novartis' ($NVS) cancer drug Glivec, it has said a generic drugmaker there is free, for now, to proceed with its cheap knockoff of Merck's vaunted diabetes drugs. 

Merck ($MRK) known outside the U.S. as Merck MSD, just two days ago demanded the court stop India's Glenmark Pharmaceuticals from making generic versions of blockbusters Januvia and Janumet, saying it had a patent for the drugs there. Today, the court said Merck's could move forward with its lawsuit but refused Merck's request for an immediate halt to Glenmark's plans, The Economic Times reports. The decision said the salt used by the Indian company was not generic. Merck said it might appeal. 

Glenmark intends to sell its versions, called Zita and Zita Met, at a 20% discount to MSD's price of about 1,200 rupees per month. The two drugs are among the top-selling diabetes treatments in India. 

It was just another indication of how India's highest court is moving when it comes to Western drugmakers and their esteem for patents. Novartis this week lost what was seen as a landmark decision for an Indian patent on its cancer drug Glivec. But it is not alone in feeling the pain from India's penchant for putting its people ahead of patents. The government has issued a compulsory license for Bayer's cancer drug Nexavar and revoked patents on Pfizer's ($PFE) Sutent and Roche's ($RHHBY) Pegasys. Because Western drugmakers like the potential of the Indian market, they are reluctant to just up and depart. Merck has pointed out, for example, that there are about 65 million patients in India being treated for Type 2 diabetes. 

- read the Economic Times story