HIV patients oppose GSK patent on AIDS drug
Thirty-five-year-old farmer Ramjas (name changed) has lost all that he had. He is HIV positive and had to sell literally everything he owned so that he could continue his treatment. He uses the HIV drug Combivir to treat his condition, which costs him Rs 1100 a month and even though he is illiterate, Ramjas knows that this price could go up further if Combivir were patented.
The Manipur Network of Positive People (MNP+), under the aegis of the Indian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (INP+) is fighting for the rights of people like Ramjas and in a historic move, have helped a group of HIV patients, filed a pre-grant opposition to GlaxoSmithkline's patent application at the Indian Patent office in Kolkata
People Living With HIV AIDS group share Ramjas's fears that if this drug is patented and if one manufacturer gets the monopoly of producing the drug, the cost of treatment would rise considerably.
Says Bangalore-based patent lawyer, Vishwas Devaya, "If the patent is granted to GlaxoSmithKline then there can be two things. Either Indian manufacturers will have to stop manufacturing the drug and GlaxoSmithKline will get a clear monopoly or they will have to pay GlaxoSmithKline a royalty. In both cases prices will go up and ultimately affect the patient."
Combivir is the backbone of AIDS therapy and is used in the first-line of treatment. It is a fixed-dose combination of two existing AIDS drugs — zidovudine and lamivudine and technically , is not a new invention. A pre-grant opposition allows people to oppose patent applications filed by a company. A decision on the patent is given after the Patent Controller's office hears arguments from different stakeholders. Only recently, the Patent Office in Chennai had rejected Novartis' patent on cancer drug Glivec.
According to the President, Indian Network of Positive People, L Gangte, Combivir means life to all HIV patients.
"It is a frontline drug and is most essential. If no one moves against the patent, then the prices will shoot up and the common man, who is already pinched because the prices are so high will not be able to afford the treatment," he says.
Decisions at the patent offices are a question of life and death for people living with HIV AIDS and the question that is being raised is, how will the government reach out to the millions of poor HIV patients for whom the treatment will become a matter of choice if the drug is patented.