What changes will India’s next Prime Minister bring to India’s Innovative Life Sciences? (Part 2)

Susan Kling FinstonThis is a guest post from Susan K Finston, President of Finston Consulting. Do you have a response to Susan’s post? Respond in the comments section below.

India’s new Prime Minister  Narendra Modi has asked Ministers to set ambitious targets for the first 100 days of government,. While the BJP Party Manifesto calls for implementation of incentives for R&D Intensive Enterprises, BioPharma wallahs eagerly await clear signals on IP policy directions, where latest reports indicate that the Modi Government’s first act may be to expand pharma price controls by raising the number of drugs on the essential medicines list.

My earlier posting on the BJP victory addressed urgently needed regulatory reforms to restore luster to Indian drugs, devices and clinical research and ensure patient safety domestically and in highly regulated markets alike. For insights into potential patent law priorities – and leaving the important issues of data protection and patent linkage for another day –  let’s look back ten years, and revisit the policies of the prior BJP Government.

As full disclosure, I represented the international innovative pharmaceutical industry in a number of developing countries including India in the run-up to the WTO 2005 deadline for adoption of product patent protection. I remember vividly the excitement in the room at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in New Delhi on December 6, 2004 as we awaited remarks of then-Minister of Industry and Commerce Kamal Nath.  Speaking to the WEF plenary late in the afternoon, Nath electrified the crowd with his pronouncement that India would not be wishy-washy in meeting its WTO trade obligation to adopt product patents for pharmaceuticals, and that it would be good for India. Three weeks later, Nath ushered in the new era of product patent protection on December 27, 2004 with a detailed policy Statement outlining the rationale behind the BJP’s Ordinance relating to the Patents (Third) Amendment.

Let’s review the pharma / biotech highlights in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry Statement–keeping in mind that the Ordinance was watered-down by leftist amendments before passage in March of 2005 (after the BJP Government was voted out of power).

  • The pharma and IT industry are described as sunrise sectors for India, increasingly following R&D-based strategies for innovative growth, and dependent on patent protection:

“Thus, while Indian companies spent not even a fraction of a percent on R & D ten years ago, today the larger Indian companies are spending in the region of 6 to 8 percent of their turnover on R & D. (The norm for major MNCs is 12%). The transformed Indian pharma industry is itself looking for patent protection – particularly the bio-tech sector, in which India has aggressive prospects.”

  •   Continued growth of Indian Indian pharma exports to the lucrative US market depended then, as now, on maintaining a patent system consistent with WTO norms:

“When we joined the WTO ten years ago Indian pharma exports were less than 4000 crore rupees. A decade later our pharma exports are 14,000 crore rupees, and account for more than a third of the industry’s turnover. This is the result of the confidence built up in our industry due to our progressive adherence to our IP commitments. Now we are poised to achieve an annual compounded growth rate of 30% in order to double our pharma exports in three years. Some 60 billion dollars worth of drugs are going off patent in the next few years. Indian industry can grab a lion’s share of this – provided we are a bona fide member of the international trading community[.]”

  • India also stood to gain from adoption of effective patent protection with growth in contract research organizations (CRO) services:

“Apart from manufacture of drugs, the pharma industry offers huge scope for outsourcing of clinical research. We have a vast pool of scientific and technical personnel, and recognized expertise in medical treatment and health care. India can take advantage of our strength in this provided we have the right legal framework in place, which provides IP protection to the results of that research.”

  • The vast majority of drugs would remain ‘off-patent,’ including essential medicines, preventing steep price rises:

“The fear that prices of medicines will spiral is unfounded. In the first place we must realize the fact that 97% of all drugs manufactured in India are off-patent, and so will remain unaffected. These cover all the life-saving drugs, as well as medicines of daily use for common aliments. In the patented drugs also, in most cases there are always alternatives available.”

  • The Act sought to balance access, affordability, and conformity with international IP protection norms:

“The Act ensures that the reasonable requirements of the public with respect to availability and affordability are taken care of. Public interest particularly public health and nutrition is protected. The law effectively balances and calibrates Intellectual Property protection with public health concerns and national security. By participating in the international system of intellectual property protection, India unlocks for herself vast opportunities in both exports as well as her potential to become a global hub in the area of R&D based clinical research outsourcing, particularly in the area of bio-technology.”

While hindsight is 20/20, in retrospect the Ministry of Commerce and Industry Statement appears prescient in identifying key stakeholders and the broader social and economic benefits of a product patent protection. Undoubtedly, the BJP Ordinance itself suffered from lacunae – and received significant criticism from the international innovative BioPharma industry.  At the same time, the Ordinance was recognized as a critical watershed and a substantial, positive step to move India closer to the patent mainstream.  The identified deficits in the BJP Ordinance subsequently were compounded and multiplied by subsequent Leftist amendments, effectively undermining patent protection needed by India’s innovative BioPharma companies and MNCs alike.

Let’s hope that ten years on the Modi Government may see the broader picture beyond price controls for essential medicines and may introduce patent reforms needed to reset the balance between access, affordability and effective patent protection.  This would go a long way to meet the BJP Manifesto to support R&D Intensive Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) needed for creation and assimilation of new technologies, e.g., novel diagnostics, devices, therapies and cures for patients in India and globally.

About the author:
President of Finston Consulting LLC since 2005, Susan works with innovative biotechnology and other clients ranging from start-up to Fortune-100, providing support for legal, transactional, policy and “doing business” issues. Susan has extensive background and special expertise relating to intellectual property and knowledge-economy issues in advanced developing countries including India and South Asia, Latin America and the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. She also works with governments, and NGOs on capacity building and related educational programs through BayhDole25. Together with biotechnology pioneer Ananda Chakrabarty, she also is co-founder of Amrita Therapeutics Ltd., an emerging biopharmaceutical company based in India with cancer peptide drugs entering in vivo research. Previous experience includes 11 years in the U.S Foreign Service with overseas tours in London, Tel Aviv, and Manila and at the Department of State in Washington DC. For more information on latest presentations and publications please visit finstonconsulting.com.

4 thoughts on “What changes will India’s next Prime Minister bring to India’s Innovative Life Sciences? (Part 2)”

  1. Great comment, he is an strong man at BJP so he shares the ideology, however maybe he can see the things in a different perspective, more now with all the Indian people working in R&D worldwide

  2. As long as there is life there is hope and you know my line Susan- In India everything happens in the richness and fullness of time – not a moment before not a moment after . So – let’s wait for that moment……

  3. Susan: Thanks so much for this insightful blog- from someone who was there. We can only wonder where India might be today if it had followed more faithfully this vision. Jeff

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