Novartis swings for fences in battle over Gleevec patent in India

So begins the court hearing that major pharma outfits with blockbuster ambitions in India are watching. Novartis ($NVS) has initiated its argument for the patentability of its hit cancer drug Gleevec in India at a hearing on Tuesday in the country's high court, Reuters reported.

Across the biopharma world, everyone is waiting to see if India, which is so steeped in generics, will take a tougher stance on patents of branded meds. Doing so would certainly aid drugmakers in profiting from sales of treatments to the world's second-largest national population, which is now mostly treated with cheap knockoff meds.

Novartis doesn't have a great deal at stake financially for Gleevec in its long-sought patent for the leukemia drug in India, as Reuters reports, yet the Swiss drug giant has made known that failure to protect the exclusivity of its branded meds in India could impact its investments in the country. And the outcome of the case could have implications for a bevy of branded drugmakers. Other global drug players, such as Roche ($RHHBY) and Bayer, have mounted legal battles in India to protect their intellectual property on meds.

Yet India has a track record of being stingy with drug patents, which are notoriously hard to secure in the country. India is home to many generic drugmakers, which have helped to keep the cost of many meds low--sometimes to the detriment of those companies that develop and sell the originals. For instance, Indian generics maker Natco Pharma gained rights to sell a copycat version of Bayer's cancer drug Nexavar for $170 per month in its home country, which is way less than the $5,000 Bayer charges for a month's supply of the drug in other countries.

Bayer is now contesting a ruling from India's patent authority in March that wiped out the company's patent protection on Nexavar.

In Novartis' case over Gleevec in India, the company is taking on part of the Indian Patents Act that supported denial of a patent for the drug, Reuters reported. The hearing for Novartis' case before the Supreme Court is expected to last for two months, following a legal battle that began in 2006.

- check out the Reuters article