International News

India's Decision to Adhere to International Patent Regulations Could Limit Access to Medicines, Including HIV/AIDS Drugs

January 8, 2007

India has become the "premier drug provider for the developing world" by producing generic versions of some of the world's most effective medicines, including antiretroviral drugs, but the country's decision to adhere to international patent regulations could limit access to generic drugs in the developing world, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Prior to India's decision concerning international patent standards, the country's pharmaceutical companies were able to produce generic versions of patented drugs by finding different ways of engineering them in accordance with the country's patent laws. Some estimates indicate that Indian generic firms provide treatment for 50% of HIV-positive people in the developing world, according to the Monitor. Indian generic drug company Cipla in 2000 "famously" announced new generic antiretrovirals that reduced the price of treatment from $11,000 per patient annually to $400 per patient annually, and one in three HIV-positive people in Africa currently takes Cipla medications, the Monitor reports. Indian pharmaceutical companies "as never before" are seeking to expand their market to wealthy nations -- a move that some critics say could "come at the expense of the world's poor," according to the Monitor. Indian pharmaceutical companies have 75 plants approved to make drugs for the U.S. market, and the country's drug companies are "on the cusp of an outsourcing trend that could become a $3-billion-a-year industry by 2010," according to the Monitor. Amar Lulla, a Cipla managing director, suggested that some drugs produced by Indian generic firms might soon be 30 to 50 times more expensive than they are currently. According to Chinkholal Thangsing, an Indian doctor who provides treatment to people living with HIV/AIDS, the "trouble will come" in five years when there is a greater need for antiretrovirals and when the country's patent laws will hinder its pharmaceutical companies from producing the latest generic drugs. In addition, the change in India's patent laws has led many foreign drug firms to enter the market and target India's growing middle class. According to the Monitor, these firms are considering outsourcing some research, which some estimates indicate could reduce costs by up to 60% (Sappenfield, Christian Science Monitor, 1/2).

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