Novartis sweats Glivec patent verdict in India

Easter promises to be a nail-biting weekend for Novartis. That's because a final verdict in the big Glivec patent case is due on Monday from India's Supreme Court. So, the Swiss drugmaker will finally win its patent for the cancer treatment--or not.

Novartis won't be alone in its anxiety. The Glivec patent case is a big deal for Novartis ($NVS), which is chasing sales growth in India along with its multinational competitors. But it's a big deal for the rest of Big Pharma, too. If Novartis doesn't win patent protection for Glivec, then the entire branded-drug business faces further erosion to its intellectual property in India.

Official India has been increasingly aggressive in stripping patent protection from Big Pharma's products. There's the Natco Pharma compulsory license on Bayer's Nexavar, which opened up the market to cheap copies of the on-patent cancer drug. There are the yanked patents on Pfizer's ($PFE) Sutent and Roche's ($RHHBY) hepatitis C drug Pegasys, among others. And the Indian government is now considering a compulsory license application on Roche's Herceptin.

Access-to-medicine advocates say Big Pharma's drugs are much too expensive for most Indians, and lifesaving treatments shouldn't be priced for use by a select few. Drugmakers say IP protections keep the innovation coming. Some have taken their own steps toward opening up access, either by cutting their own prices or working with local, low-cost manufacturers on versions specifically for the Indian market.

If the Supreme Court sides with Novartis, then that could signal a calming in the patent waters. The government did say recently that it might hold off on more compulsory licensing. But if the court goes the way of recent patent-office decisions, then drugmakers will have to brace for more patent challenges.

"Big Pharma is nervous because nothing has gone in their favor in the recent past," Ajay Kumar Sharma of Frost & Sullivan told Reuters. "With this verdict, at least, things will get clearer about what is the definition of patented medicines."

- read the Reuters news

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