MNCs` diabetes drug patents worry experts
Even as India is fast turning into the diabetes capital of the world, multinational drug companies are busy patenting new-generation diabetes medicines for exclusive marketing rights in the country. The Indian Patent Office has already awarded patents to at least three such products, say patent experts. Though the immediate impact of the patent protection to such drugs is not known, experts say prices of diabetes medicine has a long-term economic significance due to the fast-growing diabetic population of the country. Official estimates predict the number of diabetics in India to be 3.77 crore by 2010 and 4.58 crore by 2015. "Considering the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates for Indian diabetic population, patenting of these drugs are sure to have significant impact on the diabetic population,' Varun Chhonkar, a Mumbai-based intellectual property consultant said. In February, a patent was granted (the most recent grant of such patent) to Swiss drug major Novartis for Vildagliptin, an anti-diabetic compound. Vildagliptin is the second drug in the class of dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP IV) inhibitors to reach the market. The first one was Merck's Sitagliptin which also received an Indian patent in December. Globally marketed as Januvia, Merck's Sitagliptin recorded $668 million in worldwide sales in 2007 and is projected to reach $2 billion by 2011. In June, Bristol-Myer had received an Indian patent for its Saxagliptin, a likely global blockbuster diabetes drug. "The drug companies will have to make medicines affordable to Indian patients. I have suggested Merck to have an India specific pricing for Januvia as the prices they charge in the US, $5 for a pill, may not be affordable for majority of our patients. Diabetic patients often have multiple medical complications and will have to take other medicines also, thereby making treatment very costly,' A K Jhingan, chairman, Delhi Diabetes Research Centre, said. According to World Health Organisation estimates, the projected number of diabetic patients in the next decade globally will exceed 20 crore. India had 3.2 crore diabetics in 2000 and might touch 8 crore by 2030, it has pointed out. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) has also reported that the total number of diabetic subjects in India was 4.1 crore in 2006 and would rise to 7 crore by 2025. It should be noted that the chemicals ministry, the administrative ministry for the pharma sector, has constituted a committee to recommend a scheme for price negotiation of patented medicines to make such new generation drugs cheaper in the country.