July 25, 2007, Business Standard (India)

TB drugs: Govt, firms sing different tunes on patents

Despite the presence of a patent law that guards against giving exclusive commercial rights for modifications of existing medicines, research firms, both multinational and domestic, are trying their luck on 80 patent applications on TB drugs pending with Indian patent offices across the country.

Though most of the applications have come from multinational pharmaceutical firms, Indian research institutions, both government-owned and private, are not far behind.

Patent applications for both new processes as well as modified product forms are pending on existing drugs like Rifampicin, Moxifloxacin, Quinoline, Aminoquinoline, Ethylene diamine, and Fluroquinolone.

These applications are being filed even as Swiss multinational Novartis and the central government are involved in a legal tussle over the issue of refusing patents to Glivec, a global blockbuster anti-cancer drug. The dispute is centred on whether improvements on known substances are patentable under Indian Patent Act or not.

On TB, according to data compiled by Delhi-based Centre for Trade and Development, of the total applications, 21 have come from multinational drug firms like Bayer and Roche and another 17 from public research institutions including Council for Scientific and Industrial Research institutes. Individual scientists attached to research institutions and domestic companies like Lupin, Dr Reddy's and Cadila account for the rest.

Commenting on the TB application status, patent expert Gopakumar Nair said, "We are not aware of any new drugs developed for TB in the last 15 years. So, even if some companies have applied for product patents, they may not stand official scrutiny. Further, mere application does not mean that the companies have sought examination of these patent applications. Unless they are asked to be examined, the applications will be considered as abandoned."

While 70 patent applications are aimed at product and process by product patents, 8 are on diagnostic techniques and two applications are on method of treatments. The patent office is yet to ascertain the merit of these applications.
Joe C Mathew in New Delhi