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The health market wobbles again

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BT writes about the latest shake up in pharma patents in India:

The concluding line of the order was terse: “The grant of Patent No.198952 is set aside. M.P.No.85 of 2012 is dismissed and M.P.No.111 of 2012 is ordered. No costs.”

With those words, delivered on Friday, November 2, India’s Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) revoked the patent granted in India to F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG (Roche) for pegylated interferon alfa-2a, a medicine used to treat hepatitis C.

Roche, the third biggest pharmaceuticals company in the world, sells the drug under the brand name Pegasys.

IPAB revoked the Indian patent citing lack of evidence that the drug was better than existing treatments available in the market.

In absolute numbers, the market for Hepatitis C is large. Studies, industry experts point out, put the figure at around one per cent of India’s population, or around 120 million people. The figure could be bigger as most of the studies are based on urban population figures.

Treatment is very expensive. The current cost, depending on the type of hepatitis C virus, varies from Rs 3.5 lakh to Rs 6.5 lakh for a six-month to one-year treatment regimen with drugs such as Pegasys.

Today, generic versions of another drug, interferon (alpha 2b), are also available in India. The cost of this treatment regimen varies from Rs 1.5 to 2.5 lakh, for the same period.

The IPAB order implies that the generic version of Pegasys may become available in India in the near future. However, that would depend on whether Roche decides to appeal the ruling.

It can also opt to tie up with an Indian company and launch the drug at a much lower price or just follow a differentiated pricing policy. In other words, it could have one price for foreign markets and another for India.

Some doctors believe that Roche may also be looking at an Indian version of the drug. The company is said to have soft launched a product called Exxura, made with a local partner in India, to reduce the treatment cost by almost half. BT is yet to get this confirmed by Roche.

The article also draws attention to an earlier case:

In March, the Indian Patent Office granted Hyderabad-based Natco Pharma a “compulsory licence” to sell a generic version of German company Bayer AG’s kidney and liver cancer drug, Nexavar. It was the first instance of an Indian company getting a compulsory licence. The move was an attempt by the government to ensure that a “life-extending drug” is available to the poor at affordable prices. Natco charges Rs 8,800 for a month’s dosage of 120 tablets as against Bayer’s price of Rs 2.8 lakh for the same dosage.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

November 4, 2012 at 1:13 pm

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