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The great patent debate

The battle between the drug company Novartis and the Indian government continues

  • By: Khalil Secker
  • Published: 06 November 2012
  • DOI: 10.1136/sbmj.e7297
  • Cite this as: Student BMJ 2012;20:e7297

“The most fearful thing is hearing that the drugs can’t be found—it’s like tying a rope round a person’s neck,” says Charles, a Kenyan man with HIV being treated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).1 Charles’ HIV drug is manufactured in India, which is the source of 80% of HIV medicines used to treat more than five million people across the developing world.2 Why? Because in most other countries (particularly developed countries), after a company has designed a new drug, they own the patent for at least 20 years. This means that they are the only company permitted to manufacture it, and so they have control of the price.3

The drug industry argues that they need the profits guaranteed by patents to be able to innovate and invest in new drugs. “Patents provide an incentive to the pharmaceutical industry to invest in the development of new medicines,” says a statement

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