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Some HIV/AIDS advocacy groups are calling on pharmaceutical company Novartis to drop its legal challenge to the Indian government’s patent laws, saying that if the company wins the case it could restrict access to antiretroviral drugs for millions of people worldwide, South Africa’s Business Day reports. Novartis is challenging a section of India’s Patents Act that aims to restrict certain kinds of patents, according to Business Day. Novartis brought a civil lawsuit against the Indian government after the country in January 2006 rejected the company’s attempt to patent a new version of its leukemia drug Gleevec on the basis that the drug is a new formulation of an existing drug (Musgrave, Business Day, 1/25). According to the AP/International Herald Tribune, India’s patent law, which went into effect in January 2005, allows patents for products that are new inventions developed after 1995, when India joined the World Trade Organization, or for an updated drug that exhibits improved efficacy. Although some Indian drug companies and groups say that Gleevec is a new formulation of a drug developed before 1995, Novartis says that it is an improved drug (Rabinowitz, AP/International Herald Tribune, 1/29). Decisions concerning patents on some newer HIV/AIDS drugs in India have not been announced (Business Day, 1/25). If Novartis wins the case, it could potentially set a precedent for other pharmaceutical companies seeking patent protection for drugs, including antiretrovirals, some HIV/AIDS advocates have said (AP/International Herald Tribune, 1/29). Medecins San Frontieres International Council President Christophe Fournier last month said the organization relies on reduced-cost, quality drugs produced in India to provide treatment to people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. According to the group, antiretrovirals produced in India are used to provide treatment to more than 80% of the 80,000 people in more than 30 countries who receive treatment from the organization’s projects (Business Day, 1/25). A court in Chennai, India, heard arguments in the case on Monday (AP/International Herald Tribune, 1/29). According to the New York Times, the court was asked to clarify regulations on patents for new versions of existing drugs whose original patents have expired. Novartis spokesperson John Gilardi said, “We are trying to gain clarity as to what guides India’s patent laws. … This is not about access to medicines. It is about establishing whether India is going to step up and adopt the minimum international standards required for the protection of intellectual property.” Unni Karunakara, medical director of MSF’s campaign to broaden access to medicines, said, “Novartis is trying to shut down the pharmacy of the developing world.” A decision in the Novartis case is not expected until Feb. 15 (Gentleman, New York Times, 1/30).

Hundreds of HIV/AIDS advocates on Monday protested in New Delhi, India, against the Novartis patent challenge, the AP/Herald Tribune reports. MSF, along with Oxfam International, has gathered about 250,000 signatures for a petition asking Novartis to drop the case (AP/International Herald Tribune, 1/29). Several HIV/AIDS advocacy groups in Washington, D.C., also protested on Monday, the AFP/France24 reports. David Bryden, communications director for Global AIDS Alliance, said that the advocates were attempting to deliver a golden miniature coffin to a Novartis office in the district but that they were turned away. The demonstrators chanted, “Patient rights, not patent rights” and, “Novartis greed kills people in need; Drop the case now,” AFP/France 24 reports. The protest symbolizes the “fatal consequence” of Novartis’ action for people who rely on India for generic drugs, Bryden said (AFP/France24, 1/29).

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