Tuesday, 5 May 2015

USTR’s praise of Modi’s remarks worries pharma companies

The United States' appreciation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's remarks on intellectual property rights (IPR) has stirred concerns among the public health groups as well as the domestic drug manufacturing industry.

While keeping India under its 'priority watch list' in the annual report on IPR laws and patent regimes of partner countries and noting that several of its policies continue to be of grave concern, the
US Trade Representative (USTR) has lauded Modi's recent remarks to align India's patent laws with "international standards".

Public health groups, advocating patient rights for access to cheaper medicines, are now concerned that this should not lead to softening of India's stand by making changes in its patent law, which has been a matter of contention between the US and Indian government for its stringent provisions.
MSF, working with patients in several developing nations, said it is extremely concerned that any suggested modifications in India's IP laws will have an impact on availability of affordable medicines.

Another such organization, Delhi Network of Positive People, working mainly with HIV infected people around the world, has written to Modi, commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman and health minister J P Nadda to safeguard interests of patients and not fall into the US trap to introduce IP provisions by making backdoor amendments to other laws such as the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.

The USTR report dubs China and India as sources of most of the counterfeit pharmaceuticals shipped to the US. "While it is impossible to determine an exact figure, studies have suggested that up to 20% of drugs sold in the Indian market are counterfeit and could represent a serious threat to patient health and safety," the report said.

While refraining from imposing an out-of-cycle review (OCR) of India's IPR laws, the report lauded the efforts of the National Democratic Alliance government towards "increased bilateral engagement" between both countries in matters pertaining to IPR.

The report states that the US expects India to keep the momentum going, indicating expediting the rolling out of the national IPR policy, leading to "substantial and measurable improvements" in the country's IPR and patent laws.

However, executives of domestic pharmaceutical companies, manufacturing low cost generic medicines, say India must not fall under such pressure and instead should be cautious while making promises.

"We must not make concessions in our patent law. Also, policy makers need to be more cautious while dealing with bilateral issues and making strategies," said Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance secretary general DG Shah.

In September last year, the government here had announced it would come out with an IPR policy by early this year. For this, it has set up a taskforce under the aegis of the department of industrial policy and promotion. The final draft of the policy is now pending with the ministry of commerce.