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Roche patent on hepatitis C drug nixed

Saturday, 3 November 2012 - 4:02am IST | Place: Bangalore | Agency: dna

Swiss firm had got first patent under new regime for drug costing Rs4.36 lakh for a six-month course.

Friday spelt another victory for patients and patient groups across the country.

Within a month of US pharma giant Pfizer Inc’s patent on cancer drug Sutent getting revoked by the Patent Office, comes news of a patent on a hepatitis C drug held by Swiss firm F Hoffman-La Roche AG getting revoked.

The Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) revoked Roche’s patent on the drug Pegasys (pegylated interferon alfa-2a), which was granted in 2006.

It was the first product patent to be granted in the country, since the TRIPS mandated patent regime took over in 2005. 

The IPAB also held that validity of granted patents can be challenged in India.
Pegasys cost patients an exorbitant `436,000 for a 6-month course and was also available at a negligible discount of Rs314,496 for half year’s treatment.

The Pfizer kidney cancer drug Sutent, patent on which was revoked last month, was also harsh on patient pockets costing Rs1.96 lakh for a 45-day course.

This is the second revocation for Roche. In May 2010, the firm’s patent on HIV drug Valcyte, costing Rs1,023 per tablet was revoked.

Roche officials in India could not be contacted for comment.

However, experts say the company would take the revocation matter ahead to higher authorities.
Patents imply monopoly with only the patent-holder having rights to market and sell the drug.
Being expensive drugs, both Pfizer and Roche’s products were out of reach for several patients as no cheaper options (read generics) are allowed entry till the duration of a patent, which in India is 20 years.

Hepatitis C, for which Pegasys is targeted, affects around 10-12 million people in India.
Left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and ultimately liver failure.

This revocation happened following a post-grant opposition filed by Mumbai based NGO Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust.

Eldred Tellis, director of Sankalp, said the absence of a patent will spur generic competition, which will bring down the prices for patients.

“We also hope the government will start taking steps to provide access to this medicine,” he said.

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