'Patents have little to do with the ability to access medicines'

May 30 2011, 19:47 IST
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SummaryRanjit Shahani is the president of Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India and vice-chairman and managing director of Novartis India. He is of the firm view that intellectual property is the lifeline of the pharmaceutical industry, and protection of this IP is one of the key concerns of any pharmaceutical management.

Ranjit Shahani is the president of Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI) and vice-chairman and managing director of Novartis India. He is of the firm view that intellectual property (IP) is the lifeline of the pharmaceutical industry, and protection of this IP is one of the key concerns of any pharmaceutical management. According to him, when India brought in IPR reforms, many feared this would lead to decreased access to medicines. “However, it is availability more than affordability that impedes access. Without patent protection, innovations decline as R&D needs immense investments.” In an interview with BV Mahalakshmi, he says that innovation, research and patent protection are critical to introducing new drugs into the market. Excerpts:

There are apprehensions across the pharmaceutical industry that patents and IPR protection might increase drug prices and access to medicines might be reduced. Do you think such a fear is rational?

Over 99.5% of the domestic pharmaceutical market in the country comprises cheaper branded generics covering all disease areas. Therefore, any fear that intellectual property rights (IPR) would curtail healthcare access is completely unfounded. Patents have little to do with the ability to access medicines. Patented medicines in India account for less than 0.5% of the market by value and even less by volume. The US, which is the largest pharmaceutical market in the world, has a robust IPR system in place and is also the largest generics market in the world. Over 72% of all prescriptions in the US are for generics. Many domestic pharmaceutical companies with a presence in the US are recording better performance in that market than back in India, notwithstanding the stringent IPR regime there.

Access to medicines in the developing world is a complex problem. Medicine prices and IPRs are just two pieces of the puzzle. A range of underlying or related issues must be addressed concurrently. Special pricing arrangements in developing countries can occur within the context of sufficient intellectual property and trade-related safeguards. The pharmaceutical industry has several initiatives to improve access to medicines such as Novartis’s Oncology Assistance Programme, Astra Zeneca’s TB Research Centre, Sanofi Aventis' efforts to launch a malaria drug, etc.

Does the current price control regime help improve access to modern medicines?

It is availability more than affordability that impedes healthcare access. Lack of healthcare infrastructure is a major stumbling block. Therefore, this exercise can at best address issues within 35% of the Indian population that can

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