Remdesivir has been developed by US pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences | Representational image | Pixabay
New Delhi: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) has asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to cancel the patent on remdesivir, one of the most closely watched treatments for the novel coronavirus.
In a letter written by SJM’s national co-convener Ashwani Mahajan Wednesday, the group requested Modi to initiate measures “under Section 66 of the Patents Act for the cancelation of the patent on Remdesivir, which was granted against the provisions of the Indian Patents Act”.
Under this section of the Act, the central government has the power to revoke the patent.
The group also “congratulated” the Modi government on its move to submit a proposal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) seeking waiver of intellectual property (IP) rights provisions to facilitate availability of affordable medical products for effective prevention, containment, and treatment of Covid-19.
On 2 October, India and South Africa submitted a joint proposal seeking a time-bound waiver under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.
According to the SJM, this proposal is the “need of the hour” where humanity needs access to affordable medical products to effectively respond to the Covid challenge.
The group also targeted global pharmaceutical companies, labelling them “greedy”.
“Though so much public money has been channelized for the development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics the companies who are developing these products are not ready to share the know-how and other IP rights to facilitate generic production,” the SJM wrote in its letter, adding that “India has been a victim of such greed”.
“In the absence of a large number of manufacturers, it would be impossible to meet the needs of the medical products required for the COVID19 response,” it said, adding that “the government should act to put an end to the greed of pharmaceutical transnational corporations”.
Gilead Sciences using its patent ‘wrongly’
According to the letter, US drug maker and remdesivir manufacturer Gilead Sciences is “using its wrongly obtained patent to control the competition”.
“Though Gilead granted 7 voluntary licenses to Indian generic companies there is no substantial reduction of prices,” Mahajan wrote.
“While the researchers have calculated the cost of Remdesivir per vial is less than a US dollar which is Rs 75, the Indian prices are between Rs 4000 and 5400,” the group claimed, adding that “IP protection is the primary reason for this”.
It also highlighted that “such licenses also incapacitate Indian companies to supply in middle-income countries”.
Global initiatives have failed
The RSS affiliate said various initiatives to facilitate access to medical products for Covid responses, such as ACT-Accelerator, COVAX facility or CTAP, “failed” to ensure technology transfer and local production so far.
ACT-Accelerator, or Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, is a global collaboration to accelerate development, production and equitable access to therapeutics and vaccines.
Covid19 Technology Access Pool (CTAP) is an initiative to pool patented products for Covid. Covax facility is a global initiative to pool procurement of safe and effective vaccines.
The ACT-Accelerator and COVAX Facility reinforce “the IP regime and delay the disseminating of technology”, the letter said.
India-South Africa joint submission
The SJM urged PM Modi to take all the necessary steps for the adoption of the proposal at the WTO General Council.
“Towards this purpose, we request you to reach out to all the like-minded countries for the support of the proposal and create a broad coalition for the adoption of the waiver of certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement,” it said.
According to the India and South Africa joint submission, it is important for WTO members to work together to ensure that “intellectual property rights such as patents, industrial designs, copyright and protection of undisclosed information do not create barriers to the timely access to affordable medical products including vaccines and medicines or to scaling-up of research, development, manufacturing and supply of medical products essential to combat COVID-19”.
Both the countries highlighted that as “new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19 are developed, there are significant concerns, how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable price to meet global demand”.
“There are several reports about intellectual property rights hindering or potentially hindering timely provisioning of affordable medical products to the patients,” said the two countries.
They cited these “exceptional circumstances” to call for a waiver from the implementation, application and enforcement of certain sections of the TRIPS Agreement.
“The waiver should continue until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world’s population has developed immunity (from Covid).”