June 11, 2015 / 2:20 PM / 4 years ago

MSF urges India not to 'cave to pressure' on affordable drugs

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Charity Medecins Sans Frontieres appealed to India on Thursday not to give in to pressure from Europe, the United States and Japan to make it easier for big firms to get patents in the country, potentially blocking the production of cheap generics.

MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders, said changes proposed at negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement - of which India is a part - contain “damaging provisions, all of which go beyond India’s obligations under international trade rules”.

The RCEP is a proposed free trade deal between Southeast Asian nations and six others - Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

The proposals would restrict the Indian regulator’s power to allow local producers to make and sell cheaper copies, unless they conduct large and expensive clinical trials, MSF said.

This would give multinationals a monopoly over the market, and would make it easier for them to extend patents on their drugs by making minor modifications to existing medicines, the charity said.

“We shudder at the thought that ... the multinational pharmaceutical industry could succeed in gutting generic competition from India so that profit reigns above people’s lives,” Leena Menghaney, the South Asia director for MSF’s Access campaign said in a statement.

The federal commerce ministry did not respond to an emailed request for comment sent on Thursday.

More than 200 countries, including poor nations such as Africa, have come to rely on India over the years for supplying generics - cheaper forms of off-patent drugs discovered by large multinational drugmakers.

In recent years, however, big multinational drugmakers, including Bayer, Pfizer, Roche and Merck, struggled to retain exclusivity on their drugs in India and have criticized the country’s patent laws, which they say are designed to favor the local producers.

They have also been frustrated by a series of decisions on pricing in India, but the world’s second-most populous nation is too big a market for firms to simply throw in the towel.

The Indian government has said its patent laws are structured to improve healthcare access and affordability in a country where a majority of the people live on less than $2 a day and health insurance is scarce.

MSF said it was launching a global campaign to urge Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to buckle under international pressure to relax its patent laws.

Farmer’s groups, trade unions, civil society and patient groups also separately urged the Indian government to stop the negotiations, make the details of the discussions public, and hold consultations with stakeholders.

Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in Mumbai; editing by Susan Thomas

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