Fight against 'unwarranted' drug patents goes online

A patient advocacy group has mounted an online battle against "unwarranted" patents that the organization says drive up the price of life-saving drugs in developing countries. The nonprofit Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) this month launched a website called, which gives citizens some instruction on how to fight such patents. The launch of the site comes amid pharma groups' closely watched legal battles to gain exclusivity for prescription meds in India as generic rivals prosper in the country.

The MSF's "Patent Opposition Database," which is accessible via its new website, aims to walk civil groups through the process of challenging patents. According to the group, patents stymie the production of inexpensive generic drugs for patients in need. To illustrate the power of patent opposition, the group highlighted the defeat of GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) bid to gain a patent in India for its HIV treatment Combivir.  And it claims that advocacy helped thwart Novartis' ($NVS) patent application for its cancer drug Gleevec in India, ushering in generic competition to the leukemia med that lowered the price from $2,158 to $174 per month.

Drugmakers have contested decisions to deny them patent protections in India. Last month a court hearing began in India in Novartis' ongoing fight to gain patent protection for Gleevec in the country. Bayer and Roche ($RHHBY) have taken action in the country to protect their own meds from generic competition, Reuters reported last month.

It's unclear how MSF's website will fuel further opposition to pharma companies' patents on drugs. Developers of new drugs have warred with generics advocates over the degree to which poor intellectual property protections on drugs impact investment in innovative meds. Yet MSF has laid out a case for justifying patent challenges.

"Drug companies routinely apply for patents or are granted monopolies on medicines even when these aren't actually deserved," said Michelle Childs, director of policy advocacy for MSF's Access Campaign, in a press release. "It's a myth that every patent application that is filed is valid. When you look closely, a patent application may fail one or more of the legal tests it needs to pass. The idea behind this database is to help civil society and patient groups stop unwarranted patents from blocking people's access to more affordable medicines."

- here's the release
- see the article in the PharmaTimes

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