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Novartis Challenges Indian Drug Patent Law
  Novartis CEO wants no popularity awards on patents
By Sam Cage
BASEL, Switzerland, March 6 (Reuters) - Novartis AG's chief executive said on Tuesday the Swiss drugmaker did not want "popularity awards" and would continue with legal action over India's patent system.
Daniel Vasella said the company would stand up for what it thinks is right, despite criticism from campaigners and shareholders.
"We don't want popularity awards, we want to serve our patients and remain competitive," Vasella said at Novartis's annual general meeting, where he faced a barrage of questions from investors about the damage the case is doing to the company's image and people's access to cheap drugs.
Novartis is challenging an Indian law that blocks the patenting of minor improvements in known molecules, in a case that closed on Monday. A verdict is expected in about a month and can be appealed by either side to the Indian Supreme Court.
It is also challenging a January decision to reject its patent application in India for cancer drug Glivec, which was turned down because it was a new form of a known substance.
Novartis says intellectual property laws are key to spurring investment in new medicines and it is important for India, as an emerging economic giant, to embrace the concept. India is a major source of cheap generic medicines.
"When we are convinced that something is right to do then we stand up for it," Vasella said, pointing out that India's rapidly growing middle class could afford to pay for patented drugs.
"There are two markets within one country," he said. "We are only concerned with protection of intellectual property in India."
French humanitarian agency Medecins Sans Frontieres says some 80 percent of the drugs it uses to help poor people come from India and the price of treatment, particularly for HIV, could rocket if Novartis is successful.
"If Novartis were to win this case it would probably strengthen the inequalities up to creating a medical apartheid", said MSF's Switzerland director Christian Captier.... if India is "made to change its law, many of these medicines could become patented, making them off-limits to the generic competition that has proved to bring prices down".
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