Product or Patient?
The Supreme Court of India’s rejection of the Glivec patent of the Swiss drug major, Novartis again hardened the debate and polarized the Pharma world into two opposing groups just about when they have been forming alliances with each other albeit as marriages of convenience.
The Supreme Court of India’s decision in the Novartis case is not a denial of intellectual property rights. It is a rejection of ever-greening of patents by tweaking an existing drug or known therapy with minor modifications just adequate to get a patent without offering substantial improvement in patient outcomes.
And yet, it has become a rather sensational debating issue of product or patient for many during the past three days. When you ask a question such as product or patient the answer is obvious as no one can deny the need for access of medicines to the needy.
When you make it a debating issue, what you get is opposing arguments one against the other. Because a debate by definition is a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.
Product or Patient? It is not a simple question of either or. The question can be made even more sensational. Profits or Patients? Again, the answer is obvious. Pause for a moment and think that if there are no profits, how would anyone create products over the long term, particularly when the risk is much higher in pharmaceutical R&D and innovation? Governments and universities across the world have been reducing or stopping funding basic research, which they used to do a few decades ago due to increasing economic pressures. Patients across the world, and more so in the third world find it difficult to buy medicines at the ever-escalating prices.
Instead of the binary approach to decision making, is it possible to find a neutral ground and arrive at win-win solution? While it may not be easy, it should not be impossible.
The Innovator drug companies can have a differential pricing for the third-world countries, but then they are worried of parallel imports. An increase in the royalty rate by generic manufacturers at reduced prices can also be thought of. There can be authorized-generics type of arrangements or alliances between innovator companies and the low-cost generic manufacturers can also be considered. The list of possibilities can go on once stop taking the opposing stands.
These are not earth-shaking ideas by any means. However, when you take opposing stands and take a battle line approach, the seemingly simple and almost obvious solutions too can be difficult to arrive at. One can miss the woods for trees.