Drug Patent Protection vs. Compassion: A New Play to Premiere Next Month

Novartis' Glivec issue has underscored the conflict between the need to protect innovation and the need to exercise compassion. Dealing with this theme will be a new play about Thai AIDS drug researcher Krisana Kraisintu, called Cocktail, which will open in Louisiana in April. More info here.  It was written by Ping Chong and Vince Licata, biophysicist and associate professor of biological sciences at Louisiana State University (proof that you can excel in science, and yet have another kind of life as well). Mr. Licata's other plays include "Mexican Hat Dance," a play about a research scientist working on a cure for a disease, and an activist who breaks into his lab to pressure him into altering his research. The play was recently shown at   New York's Cornelia Street Cafe,  as part of "Entertaining Science." But here is a little vignette, a spoof of serious math dramas (like "Proof") that Mr. Licata recently published called "To Teach the Calculus." I'd argue that there would be fewer students like the one in this play if colleges would stop scheduling calculus classes at 8 AM... Of course the issue of IP for drugs vs. human rights is getting a huge amount of coverage right now, in light of Novartis' position on its Glivec patents in India. The Times of India just provided an update on the national generics manufacturer's position.  They suggest that the hearing be held by WTO, rather than in Indian courts. Both sides of the issue make compelling cases, but the battle for hearts and minds is raging on. Video spots from Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders have aired within the past month, and MIT students also staged a demonstration (for any nostalgic boomers, a clip is here).  But, for a brief CNN interview clip with Dr. Vasella, click here .  And read below Novartis' official position paper: Statement February 9, 2007 In the last few weeks we have received concerns regarding our ongoing legal challenge against one provision of the Indian Patent Act, following the denial of the patent for our ground-breaking cancer treatment Glivec®/Gleevec®. We have heard these concerns and want to clarify our perspective. In India, Novartis is faced with a globalization dilemma that characterizes many emerging economic powers today: two markets within one country. India has a booming middle class on one hand, and a vast number of extremely poor people on the other. As a result, in India, we are pursuing a dual, patient-focused strategy. We are aware of the many obstacles poor patients face regarding access to medical care there, and that is why 99% of patients who receive Glivec in India receive it free from Novartis. At the same time, we take affluent India seriously as a formidable world power with all the international rights and obligations that such status brings with it. We seek to establish effective protection for genuine pharmaceutical innovation in India. Our actions in India do not hinder the supply of medicines to poor countries given the international safeguards now in place. The decision to acknowledge innovation by granting a patent is unrelated to the access to medicines issue. Instead, improving access to medicines is a matter of making medicines available in a complex environment. At Novartis, we firmly believe that patents save lives by stimulating research that leads to innovative medicines. Only with effective patent laws can we continue to bring therapeutic improvements to patients that ultimately result in better patient care. We are seeking clarity about Indias patent laws. Knowing if we can rely on patents in India is good for government, industry and patients because research-based organizations will know if investing in better medicines for India is a viable long-term option. Novartis is hopeful that the findings of the Mashelkar Committee report “ which said limiting patents to new chemical entities only is not in line with international agreements “ will be taken on board. Novartis requests that the patent for Glivec is granted in India and that hurdles to recognizing genuine innovation in the Indian patent law are removed.