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Novartis explains stance over India patent law challenge
  pharmatimes, World News | February 27, 2012 Kevin Grogan

Novartis has spoken out following criticism about its challenge to India's patent laws, insisting that access to life-saving drugs is not under peril by the move.

International aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres has once again urged the Swiss major to drop its challenge to an Indian patent law, notably Section 3(d), which states that a modification of a known chemical composition is non-patentable. The legal action stems from an attempt to obtain an Indian patent on Gleevec/Glivec, Novartis' drug for chronic myeloid leukaemia and other cancers, which was denied by India's Patent Office in 2006. If the company wins the case, MSF says it could have a severe impact on access to affordable medicines for people across the developing world.

The Basel-headquartered firm has sent a statement to PharmaTimes World News saying that "we believe that working through the judicial system is the legitimate and appropriate approach to gaining clarity on the unique aspects of India's patent law". Novartis adds that it has "confidence the Supreme Court will make the right decision based on the law of India"; a hearing is scheduled to take place next month.

Related Links

Novartis again urged to drop India patent lawsuit
Glivec patent case reaches India s Supreme Court

Novartis goes on to say that "we disagree with assertions by a number of groups that access to medicines is threatened by our case. The basis of this argument is false and very misleading".

The company notes that currently available generic drugs launched in India before 2005 - including HIV/AIDS medicines and generic versions of Glivec - "will continue to be available under a grandfather clause [whereby an old rule continues to apply] in the Indian patent law regardless of the legal outcome of our case". Novartis also points out that "all pharmaceutical products, including HIV/AIDS medications, have been patentable in India under the existing patent law since 2005, and some have been patented".

Novartis insists that it "fully supports flexibilities in the international trade agreements that provide for countries like India to make exceptions to patent rights". They allow a government to issue a compulsory license to other companies to produce pharmaceuticals "in case of a national health crisis [and] we are not challenging these provisions".

The company highlights its many global projects such as the Glivec International Patient Assistance Programme, which has helped more than 31,000 patients in 2011 and currently provides the drug free of charge to around 15,000 patients in India - more than 95% of receiving the medicine.

The statement concludes with Novartis noting that "in pursuing this case, we are seeking clarity. We need to know if we can rely on patents in India and whether as a research-based organisation we can continue to invest in the development of better medicines for India".


media release

European Commission approves new label for Novartis drug Glivec® extending adjuvant therapy to three years for certain GIST patients

· Approval based on Phase III study showing significant recurrence-free and overall survival after three years of adjuvant Glivec in adults with KIT+ GIST[1]

· Adults with KIT+ GIST are at risk of recurrence following surgical removal of the primary tumor; extended treatment may delay onset of recurrence[2]

· Glivec is the only available therapy in the EU for the treatment of post-surgical KIT+ GIST

Basel, February 27, 2012 - Novartis announced today that the European Commission (EC) has approved an update to the Glivec® (imatinib)* label to include 36 months of treatment after surgery for adults with KIT (CD117)-positive gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) who met the inclusion criteria of the pivotal study. This extended treatment regimen has been shown to improve recurrence-free survival and overall survival for these patients with KIT+ GIST compared to patients who received 12 months of treatment after surgery[3].

Adults with KIT+ GIST are at risk of recurrence following surgical removal of the primary tumor. Although complete surgical removal is possible in most patients with KIT+ GIST, many patients develop tumor recurrence or metastasis following surgery and survival following recurrence is poor[2]. The newly updated label states that treatment with Glivec beyond 36 months may delay the onset of tumor recurrences further, while noting that an effect on overall survival has not been determined.

The EC decision follows a positive opinion from the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) and applies in all 27 European Union (EU) member states, plus Norway and Iceland. Approval was based on data from an international, multicenter, open-label, Phase III clinical trial first presented at the 47th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) plenary session in June 2011[1].

Results of the study showed that at five years, 66% of patients taking Glivec for three years after surgery for KIT+ GIST remained free of cancer recurrence compared to 48% who had received Glivec for only one year after surgery (p<0.0001). In addition, at five years, 92% of patients taking Glivec for three years after surgery were alive compared to 82% who had received Glivec for only one year after surgery (p=0.0187)[3].

"This approval marks a key milestone in advancing the post-surgical treatment of GIST for certain patients in Europe, where Glivec is the only available therapy in this setting," said Herve Hoppenot, President, Novartis Oncology. "With this clinical evidence, physicians now have a strong basis for recommending three years of treatment for these patients with KIT+ GIST after surgery."

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors, or GIST, are a rare, life-threatening cancer of the gastrointestinal tract. They are often difficult to diagnose and to treat because they may not cause any physical symptoms[4]. In the EU, the incidence of GIST is estimated to be more than 5,000 cases each year[5],[6].

Study details

This multicenter, prospective, randomized study for the evaluation of adjuvant treatment with Glivec of histologically confirmed KIT+ GIST was conducted by the Scandinavian Sarcoma Group (SSG) and the Sarcoma Group of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Internistische Onkologie (AIO)[5].

The primary endpoint was to compare, within the first five years, recurrence-free survival in patients with a greater than 50% estimated risk of GIST disease recurrence, following diagnosis and treatment with adjuvant Glivec for either 12 or 36 months. The secondary endpoints included overall survival and treatment safety[1]. Inclusion criteria for risk of recurrence was defined as tumor diameter >5.0 cm and mitotic count >5/50 high power fields (HPFs); or tumor diameter >10.0 cm, any mitotic count; or tumor of any size with a mitotic count >10/50 HPFs; or tumors ruptured into the peritoneal cavity.

Three hundred ninety-seven patients entered the study and the median follow-up was 54 months, from date of randomization to data cut-off. Recurrence-free survival was significantly longer in the 36-month group compared to the 12-month group (HR 0.46, 95% CI 0.32-0.65; p<0.0001; five-year recurrence-free survival 66% vs. 48%, respectively). Patients assigned to 36 months of Glivec had significantly longer overall survival (HR 0.45, 95% CI 0.22-0.89; p=0.0187; five-year overall survival 92% vs. 82%, respectively). Almost all patients experienced side effects while taking Glivec. Glivec was generally well tolerated. The proportion of patients who discontinued Glivec during the assigned treatment period for reasons other than GIST recurrence was 26% in the 36-month group and 13% in the 12-month group[1].

Novartis provided the study drug and supported the study financially. Additional funding was received from the Academy of Finland, Cancer Society of Finland, Sigrid Juselius Foundation and Helsinki University Research Funds.

About Glivec

(imatinib) Glivec® (imatinib) is approved in more than 110 countries for the treatment of all phases of Ph+ CML, for the treatment of adult patients with KIT (CD117)-positive gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST), which cannot be surgically removed and/or have metastasized and for the treatment of adult patients following complete surgical removal of KIT+ GIST.

Glivec Important Safety Information

Glivec can cause fetal harm in pregnant woman. Glivec has been associated with severe edema (swelling) and serious fluid retention. Cytopenias (anemia, neutropenia, thrombocytopenia) are common, generally reversible and usually managed by withholding Glivec or dose reduction. Monitor blood counts regularly. Severe congestive heart failure and left ventricle dysfunction, severe liver problems including cases of fatal liver failure and severe liver injury requiring liver transplants have been reported. Use caution in patients with cardiac dysfunction and hepatic dysfunction. Monitor carefully.

Bleeding may occur. Severe gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding has been reported in patients with KIT+ GIST. Skin reactions, hypothyroidism in patients taking levothyroxine replacement, GI perforation, in some cases fatal and tumor lysis syndrome, which can be life threatening, have also been reported with Glivec. Correct dehydration and high uric acid levels prior to treatment. Long-term use may result in potential liver, kidney, and/or heart toxicities; immune system suppression may also result from long-term use. In patients with hypereosinophilic syndrome and heart involvement, cases of heart disease have been associated with the initiation of Glivec therapy. Growth retardation has been reported in children taking Glivec. The long-term effects of extended treatment with Glivec on growth in children are unknown.

The most common side effects include fluid retention, muscle cramps or pain and bone pain, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased hemoglobin, abnormal bleeding, nausea, fatigue and rash. Glivec should be taken with food and a large glass of water.

Please see full Prescribing Information.

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