German drug giant Bayer said today that it would continue to fight to stop production of a cheaper generic version of its anti-cancer drug Nexavar.
India's patent appeals office rejected Bayer's attempt to stop the production of the cancer drug by Indian generics companies in a ruling that health groups say is an important precedent for getting inexpensive lifesaving medicines to the poor.
India's patent office allowed local drug manufacturer Natco Pharma to produce a generic version of the kidney and liver cancer drug last year on the grounds that it would make the drug available to the public at a reasonably affordable price.
And on Monday the country's Intellectual Property Appellate Board rejected the German drug-maker's appeal against the decision.
Bayer sells a one-month supply of the drug for about £3,700, while Natco's version would cost Indian patients just £115.
Western pharmaceutical companies have been pushing for stronger patent protections in India, but health groups welcomed the panel's ruling, saying that it would check the abuse of patents and open up access to affordable medicines.
"The decision means that the way has been paved for compulsory licences to be issued on other drugs to be produced by generic companies and sold at a fraction of the price," said Leena Menghaney of medical aid charity Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Under World Trade Organisation rules, governments have the right to issue compulsory licences to overcome barriers to access to cheaper versions of a patented drug without the consent of the company that invented the drug.
However, Western pharmaceutical giants claim that India's 2005 Patent Act fails to guarantee the rights of investors who finance drug research and development.
Bayer produced a net income of €2.45 billion (£2.11bn) during 2012 after almost doubling its profits in 2011.
Swiss drug-maker Novartis is awaiting an imminent decision by India's Supreme Court on the rejection of patents for its cancer drug Gleevec.
That case revolves around a different legal provision, allowing India to block "evergreening" - the extension of patents based merely on minor changes to existing treatments.
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