Roche is attempting to distance itself from international criticism of recent Indian drug patent judgements and links being drawn between that and investment by foreign drug makers into India. A comment piece in the Wall Street Journal said that judgements in recent patent disputes “suggest the country has a long way to go before property rights are truly protected” and warned that drug investment in the country might be impacted unless there is more clarity.
But in a press briefing called primarily to discuss price cuts on key medicines and patient access programmes, Girish Telang, managing director of Roche in India rubbished links between patent grants and investment. “I don’t say I will not invest if my patent is overturned,” he said. Telang added that Roche was continuously launching new molecules in the country and had even contracted business process outsourcing companies TCS and Accenture to deploy about 400 people to manage its global clinical trials data. Roche however continues to defend its patents under existing Indian laws.
Interestingly, the WSJ piece -written by an outside expert – had quoted the example of a recent legal dispute involving Roche and Indian generic drug maker Cipla. Roche is fighting in Indian courts to enforce patents on Tarceva, a cancer drug and has lost early rounds to Cipla which makes a copy.
Roche’s disinterest in a confrontation with the Indian authorities is in sharp contrast to the way compatriot Novartis has reacted to a denial of patent on its blockbuster cancer drug Glivec. In 2007, when the patent application was first turned down by a court, Novartis chairman Dan Vasella announced he would switch millions of dollars worth of investment from India to China though it continues to run substantial global data management operations in the country.
In fact, a recent patent appeals board reconfirmed that Glivec did not merit a patent under existing laws. The board cited reasons including Glivec’s price and the absence of enhanced “therapeutic efficacy” over a predecessor molecule of which this product is an improved version.
The board decision spurred commentary such as the piece in WSJ that Telang was reacting to.
While neither Roche nor Novartis’ approach will have a direct impact on patent grants – these are given on merit as per the law of the land -they are interesting examples of how drug companies are choosing different ways to deal with a large, but complex emerging market and manage perceptions among law makers, and the public at large.