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AP Interview: Novartis to offer cancer drug for free even if it wins patent case in India

AP Interview: Novartis to offer cancer drug for free even if it wins patent case in India

Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG will continue to offer its leukemia drug for free to patients who cannot afford it even the company wins a patent dispute in India, a senior company executive said Friday.
Novartis, which makes the popular leukemia drug Gleevec _ known in Europe and India as Glivec _ is fighting the Indian government's decision to reject the company's attempt to patent an improved version of the medicine.
If Novartis wins the civil suit, Indian firms would be banned from making generic versions of the drug, which international aid agencies said would leave "millions of people ... without essential medicines."
But Paul Herrling, head of Novartis' corporate research, said that was not the reason Novartis brought the case to court.
"We don't fight for Gleevec, we fight for the principle," he told The Associated Press in an interview at the Novartis Institute for Tropical Disease in Singapore.
"We are deeply convinced that patents save lives. If the patent law is undermined the way it is happening in India, there will be no more investment into the discovery of lifesaving drugs," Herrling said.
India's own patent law _ which came into effect Jan. 1, 2005 _ allows patents for products that represent new inventions after 1995 _ the year India joined the World Trade Organization, or for an updated drug that shows greater efficacy.
Novartis insists that its improved drug is more easily absorbed by the body.
But Indian drug companies and aid groups say Gleevec is a new form of an old drug invented before 1995.
Several Indian pharmaceutical companies already make generic copies of Gleevec, but sell it at a 10th of the US$2,600 (


Updated : 2021-03-04 04:46 GMT+08:00