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Rede der EvB an der Generalversammlung der Novartis 2012

Statement by the Berne Declaration on behalf of an international NGO coalition at the Novartis Annual General Assembly of 23 February 2012 in Basel (Switzerland)

My name is Patrick Durisch, I am the health programme coordinator of the Berne Declaration, a Swiss public interest NGO that has been engaged for more than 40 years on issues related to corporate social and environmental responsibility of Swiss companies. I am speaking here on behalf of an international NGO-Coalition including Oxfam, Act Up and Health Gap, united in the call for Novartis to Drop the Glivec Patent Case in India.

On various past occasions, including last year at this same tribune, we asked Novartis to drop its legal case in India regarding its blockbuster anticancer medicine Glivec. Many NGOs and shareholders associations have done so as well. The battle for exclusive patent rights over Glivec is one of the longest and most controversial intellectual property debates on medicines since India aligned its patent rules in conformity with the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS agreement in 2005.

However, nothing has changed, and the case is not resolved yet. Novartis is still persisting in this endless legal battle, despite three consecutive defeats in Indian courts since 2006. Now Novartis has reached the Supreme Court, as final hearings are scheduled to take place very soon.

What is at stake goes far beyond the only granting of a patent for this anticancer drug. This legal challenge aims in fact at weakening a legitimate and invaluable public health clause of the Indian law, section 3(d), which intends to limit the multiplication of patents on trivial changes to existing medicines, a common practice by multinational pharmaceutical companies known as “evergreening”. Thanks to this safeguard, patent applications on minor modifications of existing AIDS medicines, as well as medicines to treat other diseases, have been rejected in lndia since 2006, allowing for competition with generic equivalents upon the expiry of the patent term.

lf Novartis succeeds in weakening the interpretation of Section 3(d) to the purpose of obtaining a patent on Glivec, it would force lndia to grant far more patents than it is required to under international trade rules. This would practically undermine India’s status as the “pharmacy of the developing world”, as India is commonly referred to internationally.

Last year, I highlighted in more details the flaws of Novartis’ unsustainable Glivec International Patient Assistance Programme and the unjustified global high pricing of the medicine. Claiming as Novartis does that this case will in no way impact access to medicines to poor countries is not true and is irresponsible. With net sales of $4.7 billion in 2011, Novartis can easily survive without a patent for Glivec in India, whilst its designated successor, Tasigna, was already granted one in India, according to our sources. Novartis and other companies have also obtained patents for many other key medicines when the applications met India’s patentability criteria.

Novartis must immediately cease its attack on the Indian law and generic medicines. Campaigning groups around the world are protesting today outside this AGM, to alert about the potentially devastating consequences for poorer populations. Nearly 40,000 signatures have been collected these last days through an international web campaign launched by the global web movement Avaaz, urging Novartis to drop the case.

Ladies and Gentlemen, a pharmaceutical company which restricts the easy access to life-saving drugs and thereby neglects the human right to health, is a contradiction in itself. By dropping the case, Novartis would send a strong signal that it works for the benefit of sick people and not for their harm. We hope that our demands will be heard at last.

I thank you for your attention.

Patrick Durisch

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