Katherine_Teasdale_phThere were celebrations outside India’s Supreme Court on Monday as the landmark decision against Novartis AG’s bid to patent a version of its anti-cancer drug Glivec was read out.

The decision is quite literally life-saving as it signals a green light for generic drug firms to sell copies of the drug to some of the world’s poorest people for just a fraction of the price. Glivec currently costs around $2,600 a month but the generic copy is available for $175.

Over time, the production of cheaper generic drugs for developing countries has centred around India due to its open patent laws. Section 3 (d) of the Indian Patent Act 1970 prohibits the practice of ‘evergreening’ whereby drug firms tweak existing drugs in order to seek additional patents. It was found that the new version of Glivec, which can be absorbed more easily by the body, differed only slightly from the old version.

Whilst the decision against Novartis AG is a short-term victory for those who cannot afford expensive Western drugs, the impact on future innovation in the pharmaceutical industry remains to be seen. Drug firms such as Novartis AG fund expensive research and development programmes in order to secure future income. However, the decision means that drug firms will be forced to either rely on Western countries to subsidise these programmes or put a hold on critical innovation.