Regulatory Data Protection (RDP) and its need in India: The Myth versus Reality


An attempt to delay the launch of Indian generics:

Some in India feel that Regulatory Data Protection (RDP), is a deliberate attempt by the innovator companies to delay the launch of the generic equivalent of patented products in India, as long as they possibly can.

Thus they feel that why should one re-invent the wheel? Why should the generic pharmaceutical companies be not allowed to continue with the current requirement by the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) to establish only the ‘bio-equivalence of an innovator drug to get the marketing approval of the generic equivalent in India?

RDP will effect export in non-regulated markets:
They further argue that India currently exports its pharmaceutical products to around 50 non-regulated markets of the world. Thus the enforcement of RDP would jeopardize Indian Pharmaceutical exports in those countries affecting the economy of the country.

RDP is a non-binding clause in TRIPS:

Regarding Article 39(3) of TRIPS, which indicates protection of regulatory data against “disclosure” and “unfair-commercial use”, this group opines that this is a non-binding Article of TRIPS, neither does it specify any timeline to protect such data. Moreover, they feel, that only the “undisclosed data” may be protected and the data already “disclosed” ‘need not to be protected’.

RDP is an attempt towards “evergreening” the patent:

The proponents of this interpretation believe that RDP is just an attempt to “evergreen” a patent, extending the patent life of a New Chemical Entity (NCE) or (NME) beyond 20 years.


Just Like Patents, Regulatory Data need to be protected to encourage innovation in India:

This group feels that generation of exhaustive regulatory data entails very significant investment in terms of money, energy and time. These are very high risk investments as approximately one in 5000 molecules researched will eventually see the light of the day in the market place. It is worth noting that clinical development of an NCE/NME costs around 70%, while the cost of discovery of the same NCE/NME is around 30% of the total costs. It is estimated that the entire process of drug development from discovery to market takes an average of 10 years and costs on an average U.S.$ 1.7 Billion in the developed markets of the world.

Since such voluminous regulatory data are not only costly and time consuming but also proprietary in nature, these need to be protected by the regulators. Regulatory Data Protection (RDP), therefore, has been widely recognized as an integral part of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).

The agreement on Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) also recognizes the “protection of undisclosed information” as being an Intellectual Property, which needs to be protected.

Article 39.3 of TRIPs Agreement clearly articulates the following:

“Members, when requiring, as a condition of approving the marketing of pharmaceutical or of agricultural chemical entities, the submission of undisclosed test or other data, the origination of which involves a considerable effort, shall protect such data against disclosure, except where necessary to protect the public, or unless steps are taken to ensure that the data are protected against unfair commercial use.”

Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) mentioned in Article 39.3 of TRIPS are commonly referred to as “Data Exclusivity” in the U.S. and “Data Protection” or “Regulatory Data Protection” in the European Union (EU). These are all the very same.

RDP is an independent IPR; and should not be confused with other IPRs, such as patents:

Bringing an NCE/NME to the market involves two critical steps:

1. Discovery of NCE/NME:

The drug discovery right of the originator is protected in the form of a patent.

2. Drug development:

The innovator will require generating intensive, time consuming and expensive pre-clinical and
clinical data to meet the regulatory needs for bringing the new drug to the market. Such data
needs to be protected by the drug regulators.

It is understood that both the above steps are absolutely necessary to meet the unmet needs of the patients. The civil society gets the benefits of the new drugs only after these two steps are successfully completed.

The rationale for Regulatory Data Protection (RDP):

Irrespective of what has been indicated in Article 39.3 of TRIPS, RDP is clearly justifiable on the following grounds:

Generation of Data by the originator consists of “considerable efforts”. Submission of clinical data is a statutory regulatory requirement. Were it not for the obligation to provide these data to the Government, such data would have remained completely under control of the originator. It is, therefore, a reasonable obligation on the part of the Government as a ‘gate keeper’ to respect confidentiality of the data in terms of non-reliance and non-disclosure. Any failure by the Government to provide required protection to the data could lead to “unfair commercial use”.

Since such data are collected through various phases of clinical evaluation, involving considerable costs, time and energy, these are immensely valuable to the originator and need to be adequately protected by the drug regulators.

As these data are proprietary in nature, any access or permissibility for use of such data by the second applicant without concurrence of the originator is unfair on grounds of propriety and business ethics.

Given the imbalance between the costs to the originator of getting marketing approval for its product and the costs of the ‘copy cat’ coming to the market, the research based industry will not have adequate incentive without RDP to continue to get engaged in important R&D activities. In that scenario, newer and better drugs, particularly for untreated and under-treated medical conditions will not be available to the patients.

Without RDP, the originator of the innovative drugs would be placed at an unfair, commercial disadvantage when compared to their generic competitors, who do not incur similar costs of meeting the mandatory requirements of drug regulatory authorities for marketing approval of the drug.

The distinctiveness of the two incentives, namely, Patent Protection and Data Protection is recognized in countries which are leading in research and development in pharmaceuticals.

RDP will not affect exports of Indian pharmaceutical products to the non-regulated markets:

This is because RDP deals with marketing of products patented in India within the territory of India. RDP will in no way affect the ability of any generic manufacturer either to produce the bulk drug active or to formulate its dosage forms for exports in the non-regulated markets, as long as the product is not sold within the territory of India for which both the patent and RDP will be valid.

Disadvantages of not having RDP in India:

According to the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH), lack of RDP in India is the primary reason why India ranks only 9th (compared to China which ranks 2nd), in funding given by NIH outside U.S.A.

An Expert Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr. R.A. Mashelkar, an eminent scientist, also highlighted significance of Regulatory Data Protection, as below:

“In order to ensure enabling environment, the regulatory division dealing with the applications concerning new drugs and clinical trials would be required to develop suitable mechanisms to ensure confidentiality of the submissions.”

RDP – The International Scenario:

A review of National Laws relating to the protection of Registration Data in the major WTO Member-States reveals that most of the countries have recognized and appreciated the role of RDP.

Although there is no uniform standard that is followed by the countries while enacting and implementing the laws related to RDP, there is however a common principle that is followed. The laws generally specify the conditions under which Regulatory Data Protection can be sought and the period for which the “originator” can enjoy the exclusivity after the marketing approval is granted in the country. The period of RDP is typically between 5 – 10 years.

As per an article titled “Complying with Article 39.3 of TRIPs… A Myth or Evolving Reality” by Dr. Prabuddha Ganguli, around sixty nations around the world including China follow RDP in their respective countries.

RDP and the generics:

Regarding the arguments that RDP provisions will act as a barrier to the development of generics, resulting in the erosion of generics market. This argument is based on invalid assumptions. The following facts will prove the irrelevance of these arguments propounded by the domestic generic lobby:

1. Data Protection refers only to new products registered/patented in India. It will not affect the generic drugs already in the market.

2. U.S.A. is an outstanding example which shows that research based industry and generic industry can co-exist, giving dual benefits of innovative medicines and cheaper copies of off-patent medicines to the general public.

3. More the patented medicines, more will be generic drugs after expiry of their patents.

4. In the U.S.A. which has a long standing Data Protection (Exclusivity) regime, the market penetration of generics is amongst the highest in the world and stands at nearly half of all the prescriptions.

5. After introduction of Hatch Waxman Act in 1984, which provided for a 5 year period of Data Protection, there has been a spurt of development of new drugs as also entry of off-patent generics into the US market.

RDP is not ‘evergreening’ :

In most of the cases, the period of patent protection and RDP will run concurrently. The ground reality will be that innovator companies will launch their products in India within as short a time gap as possible from the launch of those products anywhere in the world. The period between introduction of new drugs elsewhere and their introduction in India has been continuously shrinking. The range of such period between 1965 and 1988 was 4 years to 13 years. The period during 1990 to 1999 ranges between 0.25 year and less than 2 years.

During the debate on Data Protection it is asserted in some quarters that RDP and patents offer “double protection”. They do not, by any means. Fundamentally, the two forms of Intellectual Property are like different elements of a house which needs both a strong foundation and a roof to protect its inhabitants. RDP cannot extend the length of a patent which is a totally separate legal instrument. While patent protects the invention underlying the product, RDP protects invaluable clinical dossier submitted to the drugs regulatory authority, from unfair commercial use and disclosure. The duration of RDP, as stated above, is typically half or less of the product patent life.


In my view RDP will benefit the pharmaceutical innovation eco system India, as it has done to many other countries. Hence India should implement RDP without further delay. It will be reasonable to have a provision of at least 5 years of RDP from the date of marketing approval in India, on the same lines as China.

RDP should be provided by making an appropriate amendment in Schedule Y of the Drugs & Cosmetics Act to bring India into conformity with its international legal obligations and with the practices of other members of the WTO from both the developed and developing nations of the world.

These provisions, in my view, will go a long way in sending a very positive signal to the international community as well as to our own research based pharmaceutical companies to accelerate investment in this vital sector making India emerge as a global powerhouse in pharmaceuticals, sooner than later.

By Tapan 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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