India patent rejections welcomed by HIV/AIDS groups

NEW DELHI Wed Sep 9, 2009 12:44pm EDT

College students take part in a HIV/AIDS awareness campaign in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh November 27, 2008. REUTERS/Ajay Verma

College students take part in a HIV/AIDS awareness campaign in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh November 27, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Ajay Verma

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's rejection of patent applications on two life-saving HIV/AIDS drugs last week has been welcomed by health officials, who say it will ensure wider access to the medicines.

India has the world's third highest caseload, with 2.5 million infections, behind Nigeria and South Africa.

India's Patent Office rejected applications for leading antiretroviral drug tenofovir, manufactured by U.S. biotechnology group Gilead, and darunavir, which is made by Ireland's Tibotec Pharmaceuticals, officials said.

"This is a welcome decision and we have always been supporting AIDS drugs should not be patented, because if they are patented it will reduce their access to common people," said B.B. Rewari, a senior official at India's National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), the main government agency battling the deadly disease.

A patented tenofovir drug would have cost 3,000 rupees ($62) each, but a generic would be cost around 570 rupees, he said.

"It is a welcome decision for Indian patients and for other developing countries who are battling the disease," said Rewari, who heads the country's anti-HIV/AIDS national program.

A spokeswoman for Tibotec Pharmaceuticals said the company was reviewing the decision and was not making any comment immediately.

AIDS workers say both companies could challenge the decision by filing a second patent application. The decision could also affect some Indian companies who have a fixed price for HIV/AIDS drugs, targeted toward rich clients.

"At the end of the day, the decision is good for the people who need these generic drugs for a lower price," Christy Abraham, the ASIA coordinator for Action Aid said.

(Editing by John Mair and Alex Richardson)

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