Activist groups campaigning for affordable drugs will continue their boycott campaign against Swiss pharma major Novartis AG, whose controversial petition arguing that Indian patent laws violated WTO provisions was rejected by the Madras High Court in southern Chennai city. The reason for continuing the boycott is due to the company filing appeals in the Madras High Court, Dr. Gopal Dabade, president of the Drug Action Forum of India in Karnataka state (DAF-K) and co-convenor of the All-India Drug Action Network (AIDAN) said.

Novartis filed a fresh appeal, on Aug. 8, a day after it lost its petition against the Indian patents act in the Madras High Court, challenging the appointment of S Chandrashekaran as Technical Member of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB), constituted recently under the Indian Patent Act. In January 2006, the assistant controller of the Indian patents office had rejected Novartis’ application for a patent for cancer-drug Gleevec/ Glivec, under the aegis of Chandrashekharan, the erstwhile controller-general.

Novartis then protested that particular rejection in the Madras High Court which had asked the patents office to constitute the IPAB to hear Novartis’ appeal against rejection of its patent for Gleevec. The IPAB was then formed, having Chandrashekharan as member. The company’s first appeal to the IPAB to dismiss Chandrashekharan on the grounds that he may be ‘biased’ against Novartis, having already overseen the rejection of Gleevec’s patent application, was rejected.

It subsequently went to the Madras High Court and won a stay order on Aug. 8 on all proceedings related to Novartis by IPAB until its appeal was heard. “I urge caution because of this fresh appeal by Novartis, because the company might avail of the euphoria amongst campaigning groups, to push its agenda without public attention,” Dabade said. DAF-K and AIDAN have relaunched their boycott of Novartis medicines and sent letters to all 480 branches of the Indian Medical Association in Karnataka State to discuss the matter.

In April 2005, the Indian government as a signatory to the WTO and its trade-related intellectual property (TRIPS) provisions had amended its law to recognise 20-year patents on products. A slew of important generic-drugs were then forced off the market, unless, as per clause 3D in the amended patents act, the patent-application could be proved to be not ‘new’ or involving innovative molecular research. The Indian patents office had rejected the Gleevec application on the grounds that it was not innovative enough to warrant a patent. Novartis had challenged clause 3D of the Indian Patents Act as being ambiguous, and had also appealed the rejection of its patent application for Gleevec.

“Developing countries and international agencies like UNICEF and the Clinton Foundation rely heavily on importing affordable drugs from India, and 84% of the AIDS drugs Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) prescribes to its patients worldwide come from Indian generic companies,” said MSF international director Christophe Fournier. “We also need to question the manner by which MNCs such as Novartis get awarded corporate social responsibility awards by UN agencies”, says Dr. Thelma Narayan of the Community Health Cell in Bangalore. — IPS