Reports: Indian Supreme Court strikes down leukemia drug patent

Court ruling on Novartis' Gleevec means continued availability of generic in poor countries

NEW YORK — A ruling by India's high court means cheaper generic versions of a cancer drug will remain available in developing countries, according to published reports.

The New York Times reported that the Indian Supreme Court ruled drug companies there could keep making generic versions of Swiss drug maker Novartis' leukemia medication Gleevec (imatinib). According to the Times, generic versions of Gleevec in India cost about $2,500 per year, compared with $70,000 per year for the branded version.

Still, the Times noted, the ruling is part of a larger debate between large drug companies and developing countries. Drug companies say they need to charge high prices to recoup the cost of innovation, while developing countries say they need to ensure access to medications by making cheaper generics easier to get.

The Indian Supreme Court ruled that the patent for Gleevec was invalid because the drug was not a true invention; under Indian law, only medicines discovered after 1995 can be patented, and the court reasoned that because Novartis had developed an earlier version of the drug in 1993, and the version on the market wasn't sufficiently different from that version, other companies could make generic versions.

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