Fix The Patent Laws

Patent on Pegylated Interferon alpha 2a revoked in India

Posted on | November 2, 2012 | No Comments

This article was originally printed on MSF Access Campaign’s blog ‘Don’t Trade Away Our Lives’ on 2 November

Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB), Chennai (India) has set aside the patent granted to Roche for pegylated interferon alfa-2a (sold by Roche under the brand name Pegasys). The invention (interferon alpha-2a + polyethyleneglycol) was held to be obvious. A copy of the decision can be read here.

On March 3rd 2006, Roche proudly announced it was becoming the first pharmaceutical company in India to receive a product patent under the new patent regime for peginterferon alfa-2a, used in the treatment of hepatitis C. The patent which was slated to expire in 2017, prevented other companies from launching more affordable bio-similar versions in India or exporting them to other countries. Official distributors of Roche in India are selling one vial of Pegasys 180 mcg at 13,700 INR ($247).  With a growing Hepatitis C epidemic, India is a lucrative market for Roche.

In 2007, Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust with legal aid from Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit challenged the granted patent (IN198952) on pegylated interferon alfa-2a through a post grant opposition proceedings. This post grant opposition was rejected. An appeal against the order rejecting the post grant opposition was filed by Sankalp before the IPAB, which has now resulted in the patent being set aside, more than six years after it was granted.

Pegylated interferon alfa-2a is primarily used to treat chronic HCV in the absence of which in many cases, death results from cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer. The current treatment for HCV consists of combination therapy involving two drugs, ribavirin and pegylated interferon. For people living with HIV who are co-infected with HCV, the usual course of HCV treatment lasts for 48 weeks, with ribavirin taken daily (orally, in pill format) and pegylated interferon once a week (by injection). In India the treatment is currently unavailable in the public healthcare system and unaffordable in the private sector.

This decision has come at a crucial point when civil society and treatment organisations have now begun to take steps to push affected countries to integrate hepatitis C treatment into their medical programmes and as a first step to use pegylated interferon and ribavirin in accordance with evidence-based guidelines. Some countries can now opt to look at more affordable bio-similar versions from competitors.

Background on the patent challenge by Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust is available here.


Note: South Africa does not allow for pre or post grant opposition of patents by 3rd parties. TAC and MSF are currently campaigning for amendments to South Africa’s legislation to provide for opposition procedures.





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  • About the Campaign

    fix the patent laws
    Fix the Patent Laws is a campaign co-founded by SECTION27, Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in 2011. Since then, the coalition has grown to include 38 other organisations fighting together to push South Africa to amend its patent laws to prioritise public health. Through this blog we will highlight how amending South Africa’s Patents Act 57 of 1978 will reduce the cost of medicines, improving the health and saving the lives of millions of South Africans.

    The members of the Fix the Patent Laws Campaign are as follows: Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Doctors Without Borders (MSF), SECTION27, the South African Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance (SANCD Alliance), DiabetesSA, EpilepsySA, Marie Stopes South Africa, Stop Stock Outs Project (SSP), South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), Cape Mental Health (CMH), the South African Federation of Mental Health (SAFMH), Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorders Alliance (SABDA), as well as the following members of the Cancer Alliance and Advocates for Breast Cancer: Breast Course 4 Nurses, Breast Health Foundation, Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), Cancer Heroes, Can-Sir, CanSurvive, Care for Cancer Foundation, Childhood Cancer Foundation of South Africa (CHOC), Hospice Palliative Care Association (HPCA), Igazi Foundation, Look Good Feel Better, Love your Nuts, Lymphoedema Association of South Africa (LAOSA), Men’s Foundation, National Council Against Smoking, National Oncology Nursing Association of SA, Pancreatic Cancer Network of SA (PanCan), People Living With Cancer (PLWC), Pink Trees for Pauline, Pink Phoenix Cancer Foundation, Pocket Cancer Support, Project Flamingo, Rainbows and Smiles, Reach for Recovery, South African Oncology Social Work Forum (SAOSWF), The Pink Parasol Project, The Sunflower Fund, Vrede Foundation and Wings of Hope.

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