Indian Supreme Court overturns Novartis’ drug patent bid for the good of humanity

Image used with permission: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Isclr.jpg

Image used with permission: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Isclr.jpg

Raj Satpathy

Image used with permission: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Isclr.jpg
Image used with permission: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Isclr.jpg

On the front of it, the Indian Supreme Court’s denial of a patent for Novartis’ new anti-cancer medicine seems like a bad choice. The decision, made just two weeks ago on April 1, would logically stem any type of drug innovation in India. After all, if companies are not allowed to patent their hard work and therefore profit off of it, where’s the motivation to pour time and money into developing newer drugs? After taking a closer look, however, the Court’s decision proves itself to be a pro-people ruling whose positive outcomes outweigh the negative consequences.

Novartis recently developed a new drug, Gleevec, which is purported to combat cancer through interference with “protein Philadelphia,” a molecule that promotes oncogenesis, or the growth of cancerous tissues. Gleevec progressed through all preliminary trials with good results, with many patients showing regular blood tests after treatment, a sign that their cancer went into remission. Because of this, Novartis sought to patent the drug in one of the biggest growing human markets the globe has to offer: India. However, after applying for the patent, the Indian Supreme Court promptly denied Novartis their patent application, meaning that Gleevec can be synthesized and distributed by anyone under generic brand names instead of solely by the parent company.

How, you might ask, does this help anyone? The research scientists who poured hundreds, if not thousands, of hours into such discoveries lose work. The companies who directly fund said scientists lose money. The people themselves lose the improved medicine that result from the aforementioned companies attempting to outperform its competitors in terms of medicinal efficacy. That isn’t just bad, it’s terrible! It’s a lose-lose-lose situation where nobody comes out on top! But to truly understand why the Court decided the issue in the way that it did, we have to take a look at the context.

India is not known for being a particularly rich country. In fact, the per capita earnings for the average Indian is about $3,900 according to www.cia.gov. Assuming a dual-income, the typical Indian family is raking in just under $8,000 per annum. That’s a paltry sum compared to much of the world, but it’s the rate that Indian citizens have to deal with. While there is obviously a difference in the purchasing power of rupees as compared to dollars, it’s pretty easy to see that there isn’t much spare cash on hand for most Indian people, even when it comes to something as important as their own health; therein lies much of the basis for the Supreme Court’s decision.
Patenting any drug drastically increases the cost at which it is sold. Not because there is an extra assurance of quality, as any scientist can synthesize a compound once the formula is released. Not because of any special attributions, attentions, or dividends that are given to the researches responsible for the breakthrough, as all extra fees will go to the company which holds the patent. Patents raise the price for no other reason than the fact that companies like Novartis want to artificially inflate the cost of medicine to increase their quarterly profits.
If you’re anything like me, that’s an abominable reason. These companies want to monopolize their market to profit off of the suffering and pain of human beings. There is no justification for such actions other than cold-hearted greed. The ever-present pursuit of gold corrupts entirely the pursuit of the betterment of humanity. That’s that stuff I don’t like. Novartis and its ilk need to understand that you simply cannot restrict the basic human right to good health and a happy life for the sake of money. There are some things that simply should not be monetized and medicine is one of them.
The Indian Supreme Court absolutely made the correct ruling. This is a decision that should echo around the world and be replicated in all corners of all nations. Though it was most likely motivated by the economic impracticality that the patenting would pose for patients, there is a wholesome ideal behind it that should not be forgotten.
And now, we come to the land of the free and the home of the brave. The United States is a corporate haven; the cynic would assert that its laws are based off of the whims of lobbyists and the rich businessmen who control them. Yet at its core, it is a government “by the people, for the people, of the people.” We, the people, are the basis of change and improvement. So this is where it comes down to you, the reader. It’s more than likely that the few of you who read this will skim the contents, shrug, and go back to living your life without giving this more than a few seconds of thought. Yet for those of you who truly wish to make a difference, there is something you can do. Contact your senator, your representative, the congressmen whose sole purpose is to represent your will on both the national and state level. Tell them that you do not support the abhorrent practice of patenting medicine and its subsequent monopolization
Everyone needs to make a buck and everybody needs to eat, but what companies like Novartis should realize is that such things can never be accomplished at the expense of others. Americans exult the values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but can any of these things truly be chased in the throes of illness? Sickness is the enemy of happiness, keeps you jailed within the confines of your body and mind, and hobbles any such journey. Perpetually perfect health is impossible, but aiding the easy dissemination of medicine is not. So do it, and let all live the life they wish to live.
By Rajesh Satpathy