New Delhi, Sept. 25: India is under intense pressure from the US because it has taken legal and government actions to increase access to affordable generic medicines, the global humanitarian agency Medicins Sans Frontieres said today.
The pressure is likely to increase as the two countries work towards a possible new trade deal, the MSF said in a statement released on the eve of a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama.
The agency said pharmaceutical companies and interest groups in the US have been seeking to build political pressure on India after actions by the Supreme Court, an appellate court and the Union health ministry to increase access to generic medicines.
Earlier this year, Novartis lost a seven-year battle to claim a patent on a cancer drug after the Supreme Court ruled that the formulation did not meet the patent requirements under Indian laws.
In March this year, an appellate court upheld a “compulsory licence” on a kidney cancer drug made by Bayer that allowed a generic drug maker to sell the product for Rs 8,800 a month in contrast to Rs 280,000 per month for the patented drug.
The Union health ministry has asked a panel of experts to identify “exorbitantly priced” patented drugs that would be candidates for more “compulsory licences” — a legal provision that allows India, in public interest, to arm-twist patent-holders into granting licences to generic drug makers.
“Indian policy-makers and courts have taken steps entirely legal under international trade rules to keep medicines affordable — and should not face any retaliatory tactics whatsoever,” Judit Ruis, manager of the MSF’s Access Campaign in the US said in the statement.
“We rely on affordable medicines from India to do our medical work, so we are very concerned about the pressure India is facing,” Ruis said. “The pressure is intended to discourage India from using legal flexibilities in the interest of public health.”
The MSF said the pharmaceutical lobby is engaged in a “concerted effort” to build pressure on India to change its intellectual property laws.
In June, the MSF said, 170 members of the US Congress wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to send a “strong signal” to India’s high-level officials about its intellectual property policies. US Congressional trade leaders, according to the MSF, requested the US International Trade Commission to initiate an investigation into India’s intellectual property laws.
“Such pressure is likely to increase during talks towards a possible bilateral investment treaty,” said Leena Menghaney, a lawyer and manager of the MSF’s Access Campaign in India.
Such a treaty, she said, is likely to contain provisions that allow pharmaceutical companies to sue India outside of domestic courts. “Such provisions would allow companies to sue the Indian government in foreign arbitration tribunals,” Menghaney said.
The MSF has said the US government has a policy of negotiating and exerting pressure on governments to allow foreign investors the right to sue governments — through Investor-State Dispute Settlement — for damages if a law or policy harms their interests.
Earlier this month, the US pharmaceutical company Eli Lily used such a provision to initiate proceedings against Canada in a foreign tribunal, claiming US $500 million as compensation on the grounds that a Canadian court had invalidated patents on the company’s medicines.
The MSF has said India through its generic drug producers has emerged a “pharmacy for the developing world”. The agency said Indian generic drug makers have brought down the prices of some medicines to treat tuberculosis, HIV and cancer by more than 90 per cent.