“Compulsory licence would be a trendsetter”

Rajeev Nannapaneni, vice-chairman & CEO, Natco Pharma


Pankaj Kumar | March 7, 2013

Rajeev Nannapaneni, vice chairman & CEO, Natco Pharma
Rajeev Nannapaneni, vice chairman & CEO, Natco Pharma

The Intellectual Property Appellate Board of India on March 4 rejected the German firm Bayer AG's appeal of a ruling last year that allowed Hyderabad-based Natco Pharma to produce a cheaper generic version of Bayer’s kidney and liver cancer drug Nexavar. This would result in a treatment that more people would be able to afford. Our cover story for September 1-15, 2012 issue went behind the scenes to narrate how the initiatives of policymakers brought about this welcome change. In light of the latest ruling, we revisit that cover story.

Rajeev Nannapaneni, 35, is the man who has been instrumental in invoking compulsory licence for the first time in India. In June he rose to become vice chairman and CEO of Natco. In an exclusive interview with Pankaj Kumar, he clarifies the company’s position on the generic/patent debate.

Also read: “This loot in pharma sector must be stopped”

How did you get the idea of applying for compulsory licence?
This is not an idea but an existing provision in the Indian Patent Act, which we have invoked.

You have launched Sorafenib, the generic version of anti-cancer drug Nexavar, in the Indian market. Will this move set a precedent, launch a trend?
We do not see this as an experiment. Rather, this is a part of our efforts to make available latest medicines to the suffering masses at an affordable cost. We opine that this endeavour would definitely be a trendsetter.

How is the response from the market?
The response has been good.

Some experts say that in making a generic copy, a molecule is slightly tweaked, reducing the efficacy of the medicine. Is that right?
Our product is as effective as Bayer’s Nexavar.

During the 90s, India’s pharma sector had phenomenal growth thanks to ‘reverse engineering’, as patenting was not in vogue then. Post WTO, the industry has been facing trouble. Will compulsory licence restore the industry to health?
As a research-based company, we do respect innovations and intellectual property rights. Therefore, we find it difficult to accept the argument that patent protection has affected the industry health. However, there are bound to be situations which warrant compulsory licensing.  It would be incorrect to generalise that such situations would restore the industry its health.

Multinationals say R&D will be affected if India makes compulsory licence a regular practice.
As has been the case with Nexavar, grant of future compulsory licences would have to be examined on merits, on a case-to-case basis. We do not think that grant of compulsory licences would adversely affect the research and development efforts.

Can cheaper drugs improve health care in the country?
Improvement in health care requires action on several fronts including availability and affordability of medicines, availability of insurance coverage, etc.

[This interview appeared in the September 1-15 issue of Governance Now.]



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