from the really-sick dept
Back in March, we wrote about an important development in India, where a compulsory license for Bayer's Nexavar anti-cancer drug was granted. Bayer, of course, is fighting back:
in its 37-page appeal to the Intellectual Property Appellate Board, Bayer has "demanded the withdrawal of the country’s first compulsory license given to Natco Pharma, arguing that a three-fourths reduction in the price of the anti-cancer drug by another Indian firm has made the permit redundant and its patent itself is vulnerable to being revoked," the Economic Times, India’s leading business newspaper, reported on 19 May. Bayer says CIPLA’s new price "will render Natco’s price unreasonable and defeat the purpose of compulsory licensing," according to the newspaper.
As that shows, there's been an interesting twist in this story. Cipla, another Indian manufacturer of generics, has announced that it too is coming out with a version of Nexavar, pricing it at $125 for 120 tablets. That's even cheaper than Natco's price of $163, to say nothing of Bayer's $5,128 for the same course. A key difference is that India's Patent Controller has granted a compulsory licence to Natco, but not to Cipla. In fact, Bayer has said that it is taking Cipla to court over its production of a cheap version of Nexavar.
Bayer is employing some very strange logic here. On the one hand, it is saying that Cipla's cheaper version of Nexavar means that Natco's licence is no longer needed, and should be revoked. On the other, Bayer is suing Cipla because it has produced Nexavar without the compulsory license that Natco has. Clearly, Bayer hopes to get the best of both worlds -- the revocation of Natco's compulsory licence, and a court ruling against Cipla, which would leave Bayer once more as the only supplier of Nexavar.
Bayer seems to be trying to make that outcome more palatable by emphasizing that it has already reduced the price of Nexavar for some people:
Bayer stresses that to facilitate access for patients to innovative treatments, it has had a Patient Access Programme in place since the launch of Nexavar in India in 2008. Bayer says that this programme, last expanded in April 2012, reduces the price for the monthly treatment with Nexavar for qualified persons to about a tenth of the regular pharmacy price (Rs 280,000 or $5,128) for the complete duration of treatment.
But it's not clear how many patients have actually benefited from this program. And in any case, the reduced price of $512 per 120 tablets is still three times higher than Natco's pricing, which would put it out of the reach of many poorer patients. Compulsory licensing, by contrast, has driven down the price to $163, and maybe even to $125 if Cipla is allowed to offer it too. In other words, the availability of indigenous alternatives has caused the price to drop from completely unaffordable levels to ones that are more realistic for the India market -- exactly as generics are supposed to do:
Health advocates and cancer patients are happy that the fight between the big brand-name pharmaceutical producers and local generic drug makers is making cancer drugs cheaper. The vast majority of Indians don’t have any form of health insurance and out of pocket payments continue to be among the highest in the world. Cancer has also become one of the ten leading causes of death in India today. It is estimated that there are nearly 2 – 2.5 million cancer cases at any given point in time in the country.
Against that background, provisions in TPP that will make it much harder for local manufacturers to produce low-cost generics legally are troubling. They represent a clear attempt by the US to prevent the kind of access to vital patented drugs that India's compulsory licensing has permitted. Western pharmaceutical companies and their shareholders may rejoice if that happens, but many of those in emerging economies who are unable to afford life-saving medicines will die as a result.