Protesters say cheap drugs threatened by India court battle

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The Indian headquarters of Swiss drugmaker Novartis has been surrounded by protesters demanding the right to cheap drugs.

Several people living with HIV, rights groups and activists from Medecins Sans Frontieres held placards outside the company’s Mumbai offices accusing the pharmaceutical giant of “making a killing in profits”.

Novartis is in a six year legal battle with the Indian government to be allowed to apply for patents for generic drugs.

The Supreme Court is currently considering its verdict.

Activists say that if the court rules in the company’s favour, it would make many drugs unaffordable.

Eldred Tellis, a consultant on Drug Abuse and HIV/AIDS Programmes said:

“If they (Novartis) get their way, we may have no access to any drugs. Even common drugs have become very, very costly for the common man, and right now they are trying to kill this pharmacy (industry) we have in the developing world. They want Indian generic manufacturers out of business because they want to make money. All these multinationals, they don’t care about the poor man, they don’t care about people getting well.”

Novartis argues it should be allowed to patent the cancer drug Glivec, which it claims to have improved since it first went on sale.

But critics warn that the case threatens India’s entire generic drugs market.

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