Oxfam: Novartis PR offensive not enough to mask aggressive tactics

By Oxfam

BOSTON - International agency Oxfam today said that the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis is beginning to lose the battle to protect its own reputation as it continues to pursue a highly controversial court case against India.

Two institutional investor organizations have joined Oxfam and other campaigners in criticizing Novartis as the company holds its annual general meeting in Basel today (Mar 6).

Dan Rosan from the US-based Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), an association of 275 faith-based institutional investors and with $110 billion in collective assets, said: “Novartis has substantially invested in neglected disease research, policy development, and stakeholder engagement, differentiating itself from the rest of the pharmaceutical industry. Now, their actions in this case are undermining that record. Novartis’s legal tactics in this case have raised the stakes higher than the several thousand Indian patients relying on Glivec, to involve the millions of people kept alive today by generic AIDS drugs from India.”

Alex van der Velden from FairPensions, a British-based campaign for responsible investment, said: “Novartis is threatening its own future profits as well as access to medicines, putting at risk its reputation in key emerging markets and undermining public acceptance of the intellectual property regime on which pharmaceutical profits depend.”

Oxfam says that the Novartis case threatens access to affordable medicines for millions of poor people in developing countries. Novartis is suing the Indian government in an effort to ratchet up patent protection in India by eliminating the legitimate public health provisions in the country’s patent law. The specifics of the case center around a patent on the Novartis cancer drug Glivec.

Oxfam says that Novartis cannot pursue the case while continuing to tout its charitable credentials. A number of petitions have been set up by campaigners against Novartis and nearly 400,000 people have signed. More investors are starting to question Novartis’s policy on this case and the risk it is taking with its reputation.

“Novartis wants ‘good news’ headlines about its sales figures or its drugs pipeline or its philanthropy. But the real headline is about the company attacking how some of the poorest people in the world are getting affordable medicines,” said Celine Charveriat, head of Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair campaign. “Novartis should do the right thing and drop its case today.”

Julien Reinhard from the Berne Declaration said: “The Novartis case in India goes beyond the case of anticancer medicine Glivec because it is directly challenging an internationally recognized public health safeguard. This has consequences far beyond India alone. The concerns expressed by the former President of the Swiss Confederation Ruth Dreifuss and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, along with thousands of campaigners worldwide, deserve to be taken seriously by the company. It is time for Novartis to show corporate responsibility by dropping its case in India.”

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