Indian generic drug makers can save the world. They should be allowed to do so.
The New York Times has a very well-written editorial on India’s Patents Ordinance of 2004, which creates significant legal hurdles for generic manufacturers of patented drugs that are crucial in the poor world’s battle against diseases such as AIDS.
India’s government has issued rules that will effectively end the copycat industry for newer drugs. For the world’s poor, this will be a double hit – cutting off the supply of affordable medicines and removing the generic competition that drives down the cost of brand-name drugs.
But there is still a chance to fix the flaws in these rules, because they are contained in a decree that must be approved by Parliament. Heavily influenced by multinational and Indian drug makers eager to sell patented medicines to India’s huge middle class, the decree is so tilted toward the pharmaceutical industry that it does not even take advantage of rights countries enjoy under the W.T.O. to protect public health…
If the decree is not changed before Parliament approves it, it will be very difficult for India to supply them. India’s parliamentarians must keep in mind that this arcane dispute is actually a crucial battleground for the health of hundreds of millions of people in India and worldwide. [NYT]
The Indian parliament will have to strike a balance between two considerations. Firstly, while public health concerns require that low cost drugs are easily available, this must not come not at the cost of India missing out on the latest advances in medical treatment. Updating the patent regime such that global pharmaceutical companies are able to market their latest products in India is in India’s interests. Secondly, India’s pharmaceutical & biomedical industry itself is becoming globally competitive. To nurture its growth, the intellectual property regime must simultaneously make it possible for generic manufacturers to sell low-cost drugs internationally and provide sufficient protection to those who actually create intellectual property.
As the New York Times argues, Indian pharmaceuticals must not be prevented from continuing to play a crucial role in the war against AIDS. But it is also important keep in mind that the world cannot ‘outsource’ its responsibility to India, especially if that means its pharmaceutical industry has to pay the price for its services by being compelled to remain at the bottom of the value-chain.