Awaiting ‘The Moment of Truth’ on ‘Working of Patents’ in India

By a letter dated October 21, 2014 addressed to the Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) of India, the domestic pharma major Cipla has sought for the revocation of five patents of Novartis AG’s respiratory drug Indacaterol (Onbrez) in India, under Sections 66 and 92 of the Indian Patents Act.

Launch of a generic equivalent:

Cipla also announced its decision to launch shortly a generic equivalent of Indacaterol with the brand name Unibrez Rotacaps to satisfy the unfulfilled requirement of the new drug in India.

The Maximum Retail Price for a strip of 10 capsules of Unibrez Rotacaps 150 mcg would cost Rs.130.00 to patients against the equivalent strength of Onbrez of Novartis costing Rs.677.00, which is 420 percent more expensive than the price at which Cipla would sell this drug.

What do the Sections 66 and 92 of the Indian Patents Act say?

- Section 66 of the Indian Patents Act:

“66. Revocation of patent in public interest: Where the Central Government is of the opinion that a patent or the mode in which it is exercised is mischievous to the State of generally prejudicial to the public, if any, after giving the patentee an opportunity to be heard, make a declaration to that effect in the Official Gazette and thereupon the patent shall be deemed to be revoked.”

- Section 92 of the Indian Patents Act:

“92. Special provision for compulsory licenses: (1) If the Central Government is satisfied, in respect of any patent in force in circumstances of national emergency or in circumstances of extreme urgency or in case of public non- commercial use, that it is necessary that compulsory licenses should be granted at any time after the sealing thereof to work the invention, it may make a declaration to that effect, by notification in the Official Gazette, and thereupon the following provisions shall have effect, that is to say –

(i) The Controller shall on application made at any time after the notification by any person interested, grant to the applicant a license under the patent on such terms and conditions as he thinks fit;

(ii) In settling the terms and conditions of a license granted under this section, the Controller shall endeavor to secure that the articles manufactured under the patent shall be available to the public at the lowest prices consistent with the patentees deriving a reasonable advantage from their patent rights.

(2) The provisions of sections 83, 87, 88, 89 and 90 shall apply in relation to the grant of licenses under this section as they apply in relation to the grant of licenses under section 84.

(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub- section (2), where the Controller is satisfied on consideration of the application referred to in clause (i) of sub- section (1) that it is necessary in –

(i) A circumstance of national emergency; or

(ii) A circumstance of extreme urgency; or

(iii) A case of public non- commercial use, which may arise or is required, as the case may be, including public health crises, relating to Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome, Human Immuno Deficiency Virus, tuberculosis, malaria or other epidemics, he shall not apply any procedure specified in section 87 in relation to that application for grant of license under this section:

Provided that the Controller shall, as soon as may be practicable, inform the patentee of the patent relating to the application for such non-application of section 87.”

Two key reasons:

Anchored on the above two sections of the Indian Patents Act, the two key reasons cited by Cipla for revocation of five patents granted to Indacaterol of Novartis AG are, very briefly, as follows:

Lack of inventive steps and ‘evergreening’ of patents:

The exclusivity given to five patents of Indacaterol is contrary to law due to lack of inventive step, being obvious inventions. Novartis allegedly has indulged in ‘evergreening’ with a number of patents to extend monopoly of the drug much beyond the term of the first patent. Indian law expressly bars ‘evergreening’ as it impedes drug access to a large majority of the patients.

Lack of working of the patents:

Cipla also claimed lack of “working” of those patents in the country, as a mere 0.03 percent of the drug requirement is currently being fulfilled in India. This leaves the percentage of inadequacy in the requirement of the drug per year at a staggering number of around 99.97 percent.

With supporting details, Cipla has stated in its letter that Indacaterol under the brand name Onbrez is imported by Novartis through its licensee Lupin Pharma only. It further pointed out that the Indian law requires all patents to be “worked” within the territory of India.

While adequate quantity of imports may qualify as working, the present case is one in which the patents in question have not been worked through imports of adequate quantity of the drug. Thus reasonable requirements of the public have not been fulfilled, at all.

Abysmally low drug access to Indian patients:

According to Cipla, when there has been a necessity for the availability of Indacaterol to a much larger number of patients afflicted by COPD, that has assumed magnitude of an epidemic, just a miniscule of 0.03 percent of the total drug requirement is currently being met in the country. In 2013, the import of Indacaterol, as reportedly declared in Form 27 by Novartis to the Patent office, was just 53,844 units, which could meet this drug requirement at best of only 4,500 out of 15 million patients, annually.

Despite accepted drug benefits, the doctors are unable to adequately prescribe Indacaterol in India, due to low quantity of the drug import for the public.

Thus, while announcing the launch of cheaper generic equivalents of the drug, Cipla emphasized that its Unibrez Rotacaps would fulfill the requirements of the public, meet public health interest and at the same time increase access to this medicine, with an affordable alternative, for a large number of patients.

Increasing incidence of COPD in India:

In its application to the DIPP, Cipla underscored that Indacaterol is one of the preferred medications to treat widely prevalent Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) that has reached the magnitude of an epidemic in India with about 15 million Indians afflicted with the ailment.

COPD is now among the top ten causes of disease burden in India. According to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the overall prevalence rates of COPD in India are 5.0 and 3.2 percent respectively in men and women of and over 35 years of age. The World Health Organization (WHO) also reported that COPD is the cause of death of more people than HIV-AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis all put together in the South East Asian Region.

Cipla quoted an Indian Study on “Epidemiology of Asthma, Respiratory Symptoms and Chronic Bronchitis in Adults (INSEARCH)”, which estimated that about 7 percent of deaths annually are a result of Chronic Respiratory Diseases in India.

Importance of Indacaterol in COPD treatment:

Cipla reiterated that Indacaterol is the preferred drug over other beta adrenoceptor agonists, as it has to be consumed only once a day. Moreover, it has a higher potency and prolonged effect as compared to other beta adrenoceptor agonists.

Strong arguments make the case interesting:

Though appropriate legal authorities would take a final call on the subject, prima facie, Cipla seems to have a strong case resting on the pillars of Sections 66 and 92 of the Indian Patents Act.

Since, Cipla has already gone ahead and announced the launch of cheaper generic equivalent of Indacaterol in India, it gives a sense about the company’s confidence in its argument against five valid patents of Novartis on this drug.

On the other hand, one may also justifiably say that Cipla should have waited for the final verdict of the court of law on the validity of five Indacaterol patents in India, before deciding to actually launch a generic version of the patented drug.

It is worth noting that in 2013, Novartis lost a legal battle related to patent grant for its anti-leukemia drug Glivec in the Supreme Court of India. The case lasted over seven years in various courts of law. Interestingly, Cipla had followed similar course of action in the Glivec case too, and had won the case decisively.

‘Form 27’ and the Indian Patent office (IPO):

At this stage it is worth noting, a ‘Public Notice’ dated December 24, 2009 was issued by the Controller General of Patents, Design & Trade Marks, directing all ‘Patentees and Licensees’ to furnish information in ‘Form No.27’ on ‘Working of Patents’ as prescribed under Section 146 of the Patents Act read with Rule 131 of the Patents Rule 2003.

The notice also drew attention to penalty provisions in the Patents Act, in case of non-submission of the aforesaid information.

The information sought by the IPO in ‘Form 27’ can be summarized as follows:

A. The reasons for not working and steps being taken for ‘working of the invention’ to be provided by the patentee.

B. In case of establishing ‘working of a patent’, the following yearly information needs to be provided:

  • The quantity and value of the invention worked; which includes both local manufacturing and importation.
  • The details to be provided, if any licenses and/or sub-licenses have been granted for the products during the year.
  • A statement as to whether the public requirements have been met partly/adequately to the fullest extent at a reasonable price.

The ‘Public Notice’ also indicated that:

• A fine of up to (US$ 25,000 may be levied for not submitting or refusing to submit the required information by the IPO.

• And providing false information is a punishable offence attracting imprisonment of up to 6 months and/or a fine.

The important point to ponder now is, if Cipla’s allegation is correct, what has been the IPO doing with the ‘Form 27’ information to uphold the spirit of Indian Patents Act 2005, thus far?

Conclusion:

For various reasons, it would now be interesting to follow, how does the IPO deal with this case right from here. In any case, information provided through ‘Form 27’ cannot remain a secret. ‘The Right to Information Act (RTI)’ will help ferret more such details out in the open.

As the ‘Moment of Truth’ unfolds in this case, one would be quite curious to fathom how the strong voices against ‘non-working of patents’ and ‘evergreening’ drive home their arguments before the court of justice.

On the other hand, the global innovator companies, their highly paid lobby groups and the USTR are expected to exert tremendous pressure on the Indian Government to protect the global pharma business interests in India, come what may. All these would indeed create a potboiler, as expected by many.

In this complex scenario, striking a right balance between rewarding genuine innovation, on the one hand, and help improving access to affordable modern medicines to a vast majority of the population in the country, on the other, would not be an enviable task for the Indian Government.

As the juggernaut of conflicting interest moves on, many would keenly await for a glimpse of ‘the moment of truth’ based on the judicial interpretation of ‘evergreening’ and ‘working of patents’, for this case in particular.

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

 

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