Are intellectual property rights still considered unassailable when such disparate measures are taken to fight ongoing pandemics like AIDS, SARS or the recent advent of bird flu?
Recently Cipla, an Indian generic drug maker, announced that they will launch a generic version of the bird flu drug, Oseltamivir in the domestic market this month. The move to launch the product follows the company’s abortive attempt to get a license for the product from Roche and Gilead, which have patents on the drug in the regulated market. Cipla is best-known for manufacturing cheap anti-AIDS drugs.
Cipla has managed to circumvent patents restrictions on these drugs due to a previous patent law in India that protected manufacturing processes, but not products — an Indian company was free to reverse engineer any drug so long as it used an unpatented process.
Case & Point:
There has been a visible conflict globally over AIDS drugs in Africa and Intellectual property rights enforced by big Pharma. Due to the higher drug costs for public health programs across Africa, many states are dealing with acute public health crises. This is where generic drug manufacturers like Cipla have played a role to bridge the gap.
With Cipla drugs, the cost of treating an AIDS patient has been reduced from $12,000 to $300 per year. The customary treatment of AIDS consists of a cocktail of three drugs. Cipla produced an all-in-one pill called Lamivudine which contains all three substances, something difficult elsewhere because the three patents are held by different companies.
The drug is widely used all across Africa and the third world.
Are we killing off an effective engine for quick and easy replication of drugs that would enable us to control recent global outbreaks such as SARS and birdflu? There are epidemics such as the west nile virus, AIDS and Polio that still need to be eradicated. These generic companies have invested a large number of resources in understanding local markets and have built complex supply chains around them. They have also invested millions in third world research centers employing thousands of bright minds. Will these valuable resources be lost forever?