OXFORD, UNITED KINGDOM -- International development agency Oxfam International today expressed concern about the tactics being employed by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis on the eve of a crucial hearing in the company’s legal challenge against India, including an e-mail campaign targeting Oxfam coordinated through the Max Foundation, a cancer organization sponsored by Novartis.
In the ongoing lawsuit, Novartis is challenging India’s patent law in an attempt to protect its own profits. Although the case revolves around a patent application for leukemia drug Glivec, it has potential ramifications for millions of poor people worldwide, according to Oxfam. If Novartis is successful, the entire Indian generic drug industry, which is by far the biggest provider of affordable medicines for poor people, will be threatened.
“Oxfam believes that Novartis is misinforming the public as it defends its decision to pursue legal action against India,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International, in a letter to Novartis. “We are not – and have never been – opposed to Novartis’ donations program, but such program can never hope to supply free medicines to all patients, for all diseases, throughout their lives.”
Over a thousand e-mails from doctors, cancer patients and patients’ relatives in support of the corporation’s Glivec donation program were sent to Oxfam via the Max Foundation, in what Oxfam believes is an attempt to deflect attention away from the wider implications of a Novartis victory in this case.
“Novartis and its colleagues in the pharmaceutical industry should respect countries’ rights to take measures that balance the protection of innovation and the promotion of public health,” said US Representative Henry A. Waxman, Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in a letter to the Novartis urging the company to reconsider its position on the case. “India’s robust generics market supplies affordable, essential drugs both to its citizens and to poor nations around the world. If India is pressured to make its patent laws more stringent than its obligations under international trade law, this crucial supply of medicines could be threatened.”
The Doha Declaration in 2001 recognized the right of all World Trade Organization members to use such legal flexibilities without fear of challenge. India denied Novartis a patent for Glivec on these grounds, but instead of appealing only that decision, the company has gone much further and challenged the very constitutionality of the Indian law. If successful, Novartis’ actions could lead to a collapse of India’s entire generic drugs industry. Today’s hearing goes to the heart of the debate around universal access to medicine: if Novartis wins its case, access to all of these vital affordable medicines for AIDS and other diseases will be jeopardized.
“If Novartis wins this case, countless medicines previously available cheaply to poor people will be patented and priced out of reach,” said Hobbs. “The medicine cabinet will be firmly locked, and only companies like Novartis will hold the keys.”