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Why don't you reduce cancer drug price, SC asks Novartis

Posted on Sep 11, 10:08PM | IANS

Pharma major Novartis AG Tuesday said it was the author of beta crystalline, a form of a compound used in an anti-cancer drug, while the Supreme Court asked the company why it could not reduce its medicine's price.

"Why don't you reduce the price ... that will be a better and stronger way of establishing your bonafides of helping the poor," the court said, adding: "Rs.1.2 lakh per month is too high to afford a treatment."

The company was asserting its claim for getting a patent for the compound form in India and its exclusive marketing rights.

An apex court bench of the Justice Aftab Alam and Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai was told that Novartis AG developed the beta crystalline form of imatinib mesylate, which is used for the treatment of the chronic mycloid leukemia.

Senior counsel Gopal Subramanium, who appeared for the Novartis, told the court that imatinib mesylate was known as a compound but its efficacy as an anti-cancer drug was not known and was discovered by the company in its beta crystalline form.

The company said the cancer treatment medicine was intended to kept within the reach of the poor patients and a large number of poor patients were being provided with the cancer treating medicine free of cost.

As Justice Alam said: "You have no legal obligation (of proving free medicine)", Subramanium replied: "I have commitment and responsibility." However, counsel said that he would take instructions on the query by the court.

Justice Alam asked Novartis: "I am surprised that you can reduce the price and knock out your competitors" and yet you were not adopting that course.

"There are some constraints when it comes to pricing," Subramanium said adding that Novartis was a corporate entity with stake holders.

Novartis challenged in the apex court the Intellectual Property Appellate Board's (IPAB) decision which held that beta crystalline form of imatinib mesylate was an invention but did not agree to grant patent for it.

Subramanium told the court that its medicine which was being marketed by the trade name of "Gleevec" had been patented in 35 countries including by the US.

As Justice Alam observed "this is a difficult country", Novartis's counsel Subramanium said: "I don't think so".

Subramanium told the court that Novartis was not fighting legal battle for the sake of money but as a matter of honour. "The purpose of this case is not for money but the vindication of honour."

The court was told that a large number of poor patients were being provided with the cancer treating medicine free of cost.

The court asked Subramanium what was the guarantee that if Novartis' prayer was allowed then it would continue with its scheme of providing free cancer treatment medicine to deserving patients.

"It is not intended to be kept out of reach of the poor," Subramanium said.