Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) initiative for the tropical diseases by CSIR and cancer by GlaxoSmithKline deserves a big applaud and support from all concerned.

As the name suggest the ‘Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD)’ is an open source code model of discovering a New Chemical Entity (NCE) or a New Molecular Entity (NME). In this model all data generated related to the discovery research will be available in the open for collaborative research inputs. The licensing arrangement of OSDD where both invention and copyrights will be involved, are quite different from any ‘Open Source’ license for a software development.

In OSDD, the key component is the supportive pathway of its information network, which is driven by three key parameters of open development, open access and open source.

The Objectives of OSDD:

The key objective of OSDD is to encourage drug discovery initiatives, especially for the neglected diseases of the world to make these drugs affordable to the marginalized people, especially of the developing world.

International initiative:

In June 2008, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) announced in Philadelphia, “It was donating an important slice of its research on cancer cells to the cancer research community to boost the collaborative battle against this disease.”

With this announcement genomic profiling data for over 300 sets of cancer cell lines was released by GSK to the National Cancer Institute’s bioinformatics grid. It has been reported that around 1000 researchers actively contribute to this grid from across the industry, research institutes, academia and NGOs.

Many believe that the OSDD initiative will gain momentum to encourage many more academic institutions, researchers and even smaller companies to add speed to the drug discovery process and at the same time make the NCEs/NMEs coming through such process much less expensive and affordable to a large section of the society.

On an average it takes about 8 to 10 years to bring an NCE/NME to market with a cost of around U.S$ 1.7 billion.

OSDD in India:

In India, Dr. Samir Brahmachari, the Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is the champion of the OSDD movement. CSIR believes that for a developing country like India, OSDD will help the common man to meet his unmet medical needs in the areas of neglected tropical diseases.

OSDD in India is a global platform to address the neglected tropical diseases like, tuberculosis, malaria, leishmaniasis by the best research brains of the world, together.

To fund the OSDD initiative of the CSIR the Government of India has allocated around U.S $40 million and an equivalent amount of funding would be raised from international agencies and philanthropists.

It has been reported that current priority of CSIR in its OSDD program is the tuberculosis disease area.

Why tuberculosis?

The published reports indicate, in every 1.5 minutes one person in India dies of tuberculosis and about 33 percent of the global population is infected primarily with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The world is still quite far from having an effective vaccine or drug, which can offer long term protection against this dreaded disease.

Partnerships of Industry with belief in Open Source systems and models with CSIR in its OSDD project for tuberculosis, could help finding out a suitable answer to this long standing problem, sooner than later.

Success of OSDD initiative of CSIR:

Late November 2009, I received a communication from the CSIR informing that their OSDD project, since its launch in September 2009, has crossed 2000 registered users. The pace of increase in the number of registered users indeed reflects the confidence this initiative has generated among the interested researchers, the world over.

OSDD community of CSIR has several credits to be proud of including open peer review, open funding review, large number of real time data on open lab notebook.

CSIR has also indicated that the next big leap planned by them is to completely re-annotate the MTb genome for which OSDD has launched ‘Connect to Decode’ 2010 ( They initially expected about 150 participants to join, but within a week, they got about 450 participants. That is really the strength of collaboration on OSDD!

Congratulations CSIR and its leader Dr. Samir Brahmachari.

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.

Will mandatory disclosure of ‘payments to physicians’ by the pharmaceutical companies be an overall part of “Healthcare reform process” in the US and what about India?

The brief Scenario in India:
In India over 20, 000 pharmaceutical companies of varying size and scale of operations are currently operating. It is alleged that lack of regulatory scrutiny is prompting many of these companies to adapt to ‘free-for-all’ types of aggressive sales promotion and cut-throat marketing warfare involving significant ‘wasteful’ expenditures. Such practices involve almost all types of their customer groups, excepting perhaps the ultimate consumer, the patients.

Unfortunately in India there is no single regulatory agency, which is accountable to take care of the healthcare needs of the patients and their well being.

The pharmaceutical industry of India, in general, has expressed the need to self-regulate itself effectively, in the absence of any regulatory compulsion. However, many activists groups and NGOs feel that the bottom-line in this scenario is the demonstrable transparency by the pharmaceutical companies in their dealings with various customer groups, especially the physicians.

The brief scenario in the US:

Like in India, a public debate has started since quite some time in the US, as well, on allegedly huge sum of money being paid by the pharmaceutical companies to the physicians on various items including free drug samples, professional advice, speaking in seminars, reimbursement of their traveling and entertainment expenses etc. All these, many believe, are done to adversely influence their rational prescription decisions for the patients.

As the financial relationship between the pharmaceutical companies and the physicians are getting increasingly dragged into a raging public debate, it appears that there is a good possibility of making disclosure of all such payments made to the physicians by the pharmaceutical companies mandatory by the Obama administration, as a part of the new US healthcare reform process.

As I said in my earlier article, Eli Lilly, the first pharmaceutical company to announce such disclosure voluntarily around September 2008 has already uploaded its physician payment details on its website.

US pharma major Merck has also followed suit and so are Pfizer and GSK. However, the effective date of their first disclosure details is not yet known.

In the meantime, Cleveland Clinic and the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania, US are in the process of disclosing details of payments made by the Pharmaceutical companies to their research personnel and the physicians. Similarly in the U.K the Royal College of Physicians has been recently reported to have called for a ban on gifts to the physicians and support to medical training, by the pharmaceutical companies.


Currently in the US, both in Senate and the House of Congress two draft bills on ‘The Physician Payment Sunshine Act’ are pending. It appears quite likely that Obama Administration, with the help of this new law, will make the disclosure of payments to physicians by the pharmaceutical companies mandatory, along with its much discussed new healthcare reform process.

If President Obama’s administration takes such regulatory steps will Dr. Manmohan Singh government prefer to stay much behind?

I shall try to explore that emerging scenario in my next blog post.

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.

Concerted action by all stakeholders on counterfeit medicines is the need of the hour.

The concern of some section of the stakeholders that IPR is being extended to the definition of counterfeit medicines, in my view, is misplaced. As even in India, ‘misbranding’ though an integral part of IPR, is considered as a public health issue and is an offence under Section 17 of the Drugs and Cosmetics Acts, 1940.Currently, the magnitude of this problem is anybody’s guess. Earlier a study sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and conducted by SEARPharm reported that only 0.3% drugs were spurious and 3% of drugs were counterfeits. To scientifically assess the magnitude of this problem the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) India, for the first time ever, has initiated a study with 61 popular brands from nine therapeutic categories for testing 24000 samples. The study is expected to cost Rs.50 million and is expected to be published, soon.However, on the above study, Pharmabiz dated August 26, 2009 has reported the following:

“The Union Health Ministry’s ambitious nationwide survey to get an authentic estimate of spurious drugs in the country found no significant amount of spurious drugs in the pharmaceutical market. Among the 24,000 samples collected by the government for the survey, only around 10 were found to be spurious, it is reliably learnt.”

India being a part of ‘International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce’ (IMPACT), established under WHO in 2006, decided to work together to combat the growing menace of counterfeit medicines. The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) was reported to have several discussions with the convenor of the IMPACT to effectively address the issue.

A study done by IMPACT in 2006 indicates that in countries like, the USA, EU, Japan, Australia, Canada and New Zealand the problem is less than 1%. On the other hand, in the developing nations like parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa more than 30% of the medicines are counterfeits. In South East Asia, estimated prevalence of counterfeit Artesunate for malaria is 33-53%.

It appears that in all those countries where access to modern medicines is poor, incidences of counterfeit medicines, ranging from anti-malarial, anti-hypertensive, anti-tubercular, anti-retroviral to cardiovascular and other life saving and life style drugs, are higher.

Apprehensions from some section of the generic pharmaceutical industry that attempts are being made by the interested groups to bring generic drugs under the purview of counterfeit medicines, is unfounded. Why should there be any such threat at all, when the world is witnessing the global pharmaceutical companies scaling up their generic business operations?

Incidence like recent detention in transit of DRL shipment of the generic version of Losartan in the Netherlands or a consignment of Amoxicillin at the Frankfurt airport on the ground of patent infringement cannot be considered as attempts of MNCs to brand Indian generic pharmaceuticals as counterfeit medicines. These drugs violated valid patents held in those countries prompting the local authorities to enforce the law of the land by detaining those consignments. India also has been detaining similar consignments for Nepal whenever those transit consignments violated the intellectual property laws of India. It will, therefore, be not fair to expect Netherlands or Germany to follow a different set of rules for goods in transit, when Indian law itself defines ‘imports’ covering goods in ‘transit’. Thus Government of India should take up this issue on a bilateral platform with the European Union (EU) for a desirable resolution to the problem. Meanwhile, to ensure that pharmaceuticals exports from India do not get adversely affected, Indian pharmaceutical exporters should ensure, till such issues are bilaterally resolved, that their export consignments for third countries transit through non EU routes.

Further, the incidence of fake drugs seized recently with made in India label and originating from China is indeed a fraudulent and criminal action of some irresponsible people who bring disgrace to humanity. Such incidences must be strongly condemned and be taken up by the Government India with the Chinese authorities effectively, to stop recurrence of such criminal activities in future.

The sales of counterfeit medicines across the world as estimated by the ‘Centre for Medicine in Public Interest’ will reach US$75 billion by end of 2010. This is an increase of over 90% as compared to 2005. A report from the WHO’s Executive Board in its 124th session indicated that the detection of counterfeit medicines in 2007 had increased to more than 1,500. This reflects an increase of around 20% over 2006 and ten times more compared to year 2000.

WHO indicated that in 2005-06 the volume of counterfeit drug seizures included 2.7 million articles and the main countries where these articles originated from India: 31%, UAE: 31% and China: 20%.

Enough data are available to establish that counterfeit drugs are posing a growing menace to the humanity. All stakeholders should join hands to address this public health issue, leaving aside petty commercial interests, be it generic pharmaceutical companies or research based pharmaceutical companies, across the world and India is no exception. Otherwise, thugs and criminals who are involved in this illicit trade of manufacturing and distributing counterfeit medicines at the cost of the innocent patients, will keep remaing almost scot free, forever.

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

Patent Linkage: an important step yet to be taken by the Government of India for proper enforcement of product patents granted in the country

The process of Patent Linkage establishes a desirable communication process between the Health Ministry and the Patent Offices to prevent marketing approval of generic drugs before expiration of patents granted in India. It also ensures that one Government Department / Ministry does not impair the efforts of another Government Department / Ministry to provide effective intellectual property protection as required by Article 28 of the WTO TRIPS Agreement.
The system of Patent Linkage exists around the world:Following are some examples:

Australia – Health Authorities do not provide marketing approval for a generic copy which would infringe an existing patent.

Brazil – As of 2006, no copies of products still under patent have been launched in the market place. However, the Brazilian Health Agency (ANVISA), grants registration to copy products, based only on the merits of the case from the regulatory point of view, whether or not a patent has been granted for the same.

Canada – Health Regulatory Authorities do not provide marketing approval for pharmaceutical products protected by patents listed in the equivalent of the US FDA Orange Book.

China – The State Food & Drugs Administration (SFDA) must be satisfied that no patent is being infringed before it will issue marketing approval. If there has been litigation over a patent, SFDA will wait until the appeals process has been exhausted before acting.

Jordan – Marketing approval for a pharmaceutical product is not permitted during the period of patent protection.

Mexico – Applicants seeking marketing approval for generic pharmaceutical products in Mexico must certify that their patent rights are not infringed. The Health Regulatory Authorities then check with the Patent Office, which must respond within ten days to confirm whether a patent is involved. While Health Authorities will accept an application of marketing approval during the patent period, grant of marketing approval will be delayed until the patent expires.

Singapore – Applicants seeking marketing approval for generic pharmaceutical products in Singapore must declare that the application does not infringe any patent.

U.A.E – The Health Regulatory Authorities do not provide marketing approval for pharmaceutical products that remain under patent protection in the country.

U.S.AU.S. FDA maintains a listing of pharmaceutical products known as the Orange Book. The Electronic Orange Book is also available via the internet at: The U.S. FDA does not authorize the marketing approval for a generic copy of a pharmaceutical product protected by a patent listed in the Orange Book.

Europe – Instead of Patent Linkage, the period of data exclusivity is for 10/11 years.

The Patent Linkage System is in progress in countries like Bahrain, Chile, Dominican Republic – Central America FTA (DR-CAFTA), Morocco and Oman.

Some people question why should India follow Patent Linkage system in the regulatory approval process?

In India ground realities in the patent enforcement process are quite unique. Thus there is an urgent need for having a Patent Linkage system in place for the following reasons:

1. The Government is granting product patent to encourage, protect and reward innovation in India, it will not be in the best interest of the innovators if the same Government grants marketing approval for a generic equivalent of the patented molecule during the patent life of the product.

2. Unlike many other countries, the Indian Patent Law has provision for both pre-grant and post-grant oppositions. Therefore, if anyone wants to challenge the patent, enough time will be available for the same.

3. After patent is granted for a product in India, if marketing approval is given to a generic equivalent of the same molecule, a dispute or patent infringement may arise. As per the Patents Act 2005, such disputes regarding patent infringement have to be challenged in a High Court. The judicial process is a long drawn one and it is quite possible that the patent life of the concerned molecule would expire during the dispute settlement period, which in turn, would raise doubts about the sanctity of granting a product patent to an innovator in our country.


I therefore submit the following recommendations to ensure proper enforcement of products patent in India:

 The status of the grant of patent should be reviewed, through appropriate drug regulatory mechanism, before granting marketing permission to generic formulations and if the concerned innovative product is already patented in India, marketing permission for the generic formulation should be withheld.

 Appropriate mechanism/system should soon be worked out in co-ordination with other Ministries to avoid cases of infringement of product patents in India.

 The procedure (Patent Linkage) of checking the patent status of a product before granting marketing approval already exists in the Form 44. This procedure needs to be implemented.

India has instances where marketing permission has been granted by the DCGI for a generic product even when a product patent already exists for the same molecule in India. Such instances put the patent holder in a hardship and avoidable litigation involving huge resources both in terms of time and money. Situation like this can be effectively avoided by ascertaining the patent status before granting marketing permission to a generic manufacturer through an appropriate drug regulatory system, as indicated above.

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.

Unlike China, IPR issues in India are being hijacked by the issue of ‘Access to Affordable Modern Medicines’.

‘Incremental innovation’, related to the pharmaceutical industry, has become a point of raging debate in India. Over a period of time ‘not really a breakthrough’ but ‘incremental inventive steps’ to discover New Chemical Entities (NCE), which would offer significant benefits to the patients, are being considered as of critical importance by the stakeholders of the pharmaceutical industry, the world over. Such types of innovations are being termed as ‘incremental innovation’ , with underlying implied meaning of ‘frivolous’ nature of the innovation, to some section of people.

Most innovations in the pharmaceutical industry have always been ‘incremental’ in nature:

We have been observing such ‘incremental innovation’ from ‘Penicillin era‘ with different derivatives of penicillins, right through to ‘Quinolone era’ with ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin, sparfloxacin etc to ‘H2 receptor antagonists’ with cimetidine, ranitidine, roxatidine to ‘proton pump inhibitors’ with omeprazole, esomeprazole, rabeprazole etc.

We see such important ‘incremental innovation’ with many successful drugs across various disease areas. How many different varieties of ‘statins’, ‘betablockers’, ‘ace inhitors’ etc we have been prescribed by the medical profession over so many years with amazing results? This trend continues to offer better and better treatment options to the patients through the medical profession, across the world.

Unfortunately ‘incremental innovation’ has become a contentious issue in India. Section 3d of the Indian Patents Act 2005 has become a key barrier to continue with this process of innovation, in search of better and better medicines. ‘Breakthrough innovations’, which are very important though, are not as frequent in the pharmaceuticals industry, just as in many other industries, including Information technology (IT). ‘Incremental innovations’ are, therefore, the bedrock to improve the types of medications to treat various disease conditions.

A quick comparison with China:

As reported by the Department of Commerce of the U.S Government, domestic consumption of medicines both in India and China is around 70% of the domestic productions of the respective countries. These medicines are available at a very reasonable price to the local populations.

Fuelled by strong domestic demand, coupled with exports to other countries, the pharmaceutical industry in both India and China are showing impressive growth, China being ahead of India in both pace of growth, as well as in terms of market size.

Why some key IPR issues, like ‘incremental innovation’, are facing stiff opposition in India when it is not so in China?

Intellectual Property Regime (IPR) is now in place in both the countries. However, criteria of ‘patentability’, as mentioned above, still remain a contentious issue in India. The issue of ‘access to affordable modern medicines’ is being unnecessarily dragged into the discussion of IPR related issues, where resolution of each of these two issues warrants totally different types of approaches.

The issue of ‘access’ and ‘affordability’ of medicines must be addressed with all earnestness by all concerned, but surely, I repeat, with a different kind and sets of measures. Mixing IPR issues with the issue of ‘access to affordable modern medicines’ sends a wrong message, which would mean that IPR is the cause of this problem in India or in other words, IPR has aggravated this problem since January 1, 2005, the day the new Patents Act came into force in India. This definitely is not the reality in our country.

As I have been saying repeatedly, why then from 1972 to 2005, when pharmaceutical products patents were not being granted, the access to affordable modern medicines were denied to 650 million population of India? The solution to this problem, in my view, lies in effectively addressing the issue of healthcare infrastructure, healthcare delivery and healthcare financing (health insurance for all strata of society) with an integrated approach and in tandem through Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiatives.

Is this issue cropping up because of intense pressure and public opinion created by over 20,000 small to medium scale producers of generic drugs, who have grown within the industry in a much protected environment created by the Government of India and had thrived in business by introducing copycat versions of innovators drugs for over three decades, during the old paradigm?

Large Indian companies are by and large in favour of IPR:

The large Indian Pharmaceutical Companies like Piramal Healthcare support the new IPR regime, envisaging the benefits that it will bring to the country in general and the domestic pharmaceutical industry in particular, in medium to longer term. These benefits will not only come from the fruits of their R&D initiatives, but also through various emerging opportunities of business collaboration in areas of their respective strengths, with the Multi National Corporations (MNCs) across the globe.

The Indian pharmaceutical industry, which had registered a double digit CAGR growth rate over the past decade, is poised to record a turnover of U.S$ 20 billion by 2015, as reported by Mckinsey & Co. Even at that time patented products are expected to contribute just about 10% of the total market and balance 90% of the market will continue to be dominated by low cost branded generic drugs.

Indian Pharmaceutical Industry has potential to emerge as an international force to reckon with. But will it..?

Within knowledge based industries, after meteoric success of the Information Technology (IT), Indian pharmaceutical industry armed with its fast growing biotech sector, has all the potential to be a major global force to reckon with. It just needs to foster the culture of innovation. One will feel happy to note that the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) of the Government of India has started taking, at least, some initiatives towards this direction.

The key issues of ‘patentability together with lack of a strong regulatory framework for effective patent enforcement and data protection are becoming barriers to development of international collaboration in the space of pharmaceutical research and development in India.

Why is China different?

From the beginning of 90’s China initiated its reform processes in the IPR area, which may not be perfect though, as yet. However, since 1998 with stricter regulations on pharmaceutical manufacturing and introducing Drug Management Law, China to a great extent regulated entry of ‘fringe players’ in the pharmaceutical business. It enacted TRIPS compliant patent laws in 2002, extending pharmaceutical product patent for 20 years and regulatory data protection (RDP) for 6 years.

Currently China is focusing more on biotech drugs and has wheezed past India in terms of success in this important sector of the healthcare industry, though they have still miles to go to catch up with the developed world in this space. With the creation of innovative environment within the country, China is fast getting international recognition and collaboration, in genomic and stem cell research and technology.

In the pharmaceutical sector also China has brought in significant regulatory reforms since 2001. Because of its stronger IPR regime than India and other important regulatory reform measures that the country has been undertaking, China is racing past India to become one of the largest markets of the global pharmaceutical industry. In this process, China is attracting far more foreign direct investments (FDI) than India, almost in all verticals of the pharmaceutical industry, from R&D, clinical trials to contract research and manufacturing.

Where India scores over China:

Quality of co-operation and relationship between global pharmaceutical companies and the domestic Chinese pharmaceutical industry is believed to be not as good as what is prevailing in the Indian pharmaceutical industry. There are many reasons for such difference, language being the key reason. In China, English is still not a very popular language, in sharp contrast to India. This limits effective human interaction with the foreigners in China. In the area of, especially, pharmaceutical chemistry, Indian scientists are considered to have a clear edge over their Chinese counterparts.

Chinese policy makers are gradually trying to shed off their protectionist’s attitude in the globalization process.

Steps taken by China to encourage innovation are far more encouraging than what is being done in India. Global pharmaceutical companies are finding China more attractive than India to expand their business. As the saying goes, ‘proof of pudding is in its eating’, predominantly because of this reason, FDI for the pharmaceutical sector is coming more in China than in India.

Instead of creating drivers, is India creating barriers to innovation?

It is indeed unfortunate that the Indian law differentiates innovation based on its types and denies grant of patent for ‘incremental innovation’, which is the bedrock of progress for the pharmaceutical industry. For this reason section 3d of Indian Patent Acts 2005 does not consider the ‘salts, esters, polymorphs and other derivatives of known substances unless it can be shown that they differ significantly in properties with regard to efficacy’, patentable.

Strong propaganda campaign unleashed by the vested interests alleging rampant violation of section 3d by the Indian Patent Office (IPO) is another case in point. Interestingly the aggrieved parties decided to fight this issue through media, avoiding the legal route for redressal of their grievances. They on record cited a hilarious reason for the same that no lawyer in India is coming forward to fight their cases, at the behest of the MNCs.

The way forward:

To encourage innovation within a TRIPS compliant IPR regime, as one sees in China,
stereotyping innovations as ‘breakthrough’ or ‘incremental’ will dampen the spirit of innovative culture within the country. Inventive steps in an innovative process of a pharmaceutical product are directed to satisfy some important needs of the patients. As I said before, most innovations, which are an integral part of the progress of this industry, have been ‘incremental’ in nature. Thus ignoring ‘incremental innovation’ in India could be counterproductive, in more than one way.

Investments required towards R&D that a ‘breakthrough type’ innovation would warrant are very high. Indian pharmaceutical industry will have a serious limitation in that direction. The path of ‘incremental innovation’ ably backed by a strong IPR enforcement process, would, I reckon, be the best way forward for the Indian players to compete effectively with global innovator companies, leave aside their Chinese counterparts.

Any innovation, which has gone through inventive steps, even if it is ‘incremental’ in nature, should not be considered ‘frivolous’. It demeans the very process of innovation.

Raising various public sensitive and emotive issues on product patents and combining it with issues of ‘access’ and ‘affordability’ of modern medicines, some powerful lobby of vested interests may seriously retard the progress of India. The Government of India should recognize that it will very adversely affect the country in its pursuit of excellence in the field of research and development, in medium to longer term.

Such emotive misconceptions are compelling the policy makers to divert their attention from the root cause, which I have enumerated above, of the issue of ‘access to affordable modern medicines’ to the vast majority of Indian population.

In my earlier article, I suggested a public private partnership (PPP) model to address these critical healthcare issues. Examples of such PPP are already there in India in states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Astute policy makers of the Government of India, I am sure, will soon realize that encouraging, rewarding and protecting patents through a robust TRIPS compliant IPR framework would enable India to place itself ahead of China, as the choicest destination for the global pharmaceutical industry.

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.

R&D and Protection of IPR related to Pharma sector, are now the responsibilities of the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) – a quick look at the initiatives taken by the department.

On July 2, 2008, the Cabinet Secretariat of the Government of India notified creation of a new department to be known as the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers with an objective to have a sharper focus on the Pharmaceuticals Industry of India. In that notification besides other important areas, Research and Development (R&D) and protection of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) related to the Pharmaceutical sector, were brought under the newly created department.In this discussion let us try to have a look at the progress in both the R&D and IPRareas, separately.After creation of the new department, the Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers Shri Ram Vilas Paswan, announced a proposed allocation of Rs. 10,000 crores (around US$ 2 billion), together with necessary regulatory reforms, towards annual Pharmaceutical R&D funding by the DoP.

The Government expects that such initiatives will help bringing in transformation of the Indian Pharmaceutical Industry from brilliant and highly successful ‘imitators’ to world class ‘innovators’ of path breaking medicines. Discovery of such medicines in India is also expected to help the Government significantly, to improve access to affordable innovative modern medicines to the common man of the country. All these are no doubt, very laudable initiatives by the DoP, with a very capable, effective and a ‘can do’ leader at its helm.

The DoP plans to bring in significant changes in the clinical trial facilities available within the country. Currently even very basic clinical trials on ‘dogs’ cannot be undertaken because of protests from the activists related to ‘prevention of cruelty on animals’. Such reform measures, I am sure, will be sincerely welcomed by many.

It is interesting to note that the DoP is also planning to extend Regulatory Data Protection (RDP) to innovators. It has been reported that the invaluable data generated by the innovators towards development of the New Molecular Entity (NME) will, in near future, be protected from ‘piracy’ during 20 year patent life of the product. However, the DoP cautions that attempt to ‘evergreen patent’ through data protection, beyond the patent life of a product will not be permitted.

The argument of the innovators on this issue is that Product Patent and Clinical Data are two different types of intellectual properties and should not be considered as one and the same. While patent protection is extended for discovery of the molecule, data protection is for the immense and expensive clinical data that the innovators share with the Government for regulatory approval of the patented molecule, within the country. The argument that such valuable data generated by the innovators is an intellectual property (IP), lies in the premise that if the innovator would not have been required to part with the data with the regulatory authorities, such data would have been regarded as a ‘trade secret’, which is an IP. Therefore, the innovators argue that for sharing this IP with the Government, specific period of data protection to be extended to them, which should be unrelated to the life of the patent.

Thus far, we see that DoP has taken some very important and admirable initiatives to encourage R&D within the country. However, while looking at another important area of its responsibility i.e. protection of IPR within the Pharmaceutical sector, nothing has been announced by the department, as yet.

Encouraging R&D without effective protection of IPR, points towards an incomplete agenda to effectively address pharmaceutical product innovation related issues by the department. I sincerely hope that the DoP will soon announce its policy initiatives towards IPR protection to further encourage the innovators, both within and outside the country.

The DoP has taken some significant steps to address various important issues of the pharmaceutical industry under its terms of reference, within a very short period. I look forward to knowing from the DoP the detail initiatives in each of its nine functions and responsibilities, as announced in the notification of the cabinet secretariat on July 2, 2008.

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.