The world’s largest drug company by sales Pfizer Inc. is planning to launch a free treatment programme in Nepal with its new cancer drug — Sutent.
The move may upset Indian generic drug maker Natco Pharma Ltd’s efforts to secure a compulsory licence for exporting copy-cat versions of the drug. Compulsory licensing is when a government allows someone else to produce a patented drug or process without the consent of the patent owner. It is one of the flexibilities on patent protection included in the World Trade Organization’s agreement on intellectual property —the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, or Trips.
Healthy plan? The Pfizer headquarters in New York. Its cancer drug, Sutent, costs around Rs1.96 lakh for a 45-day treatment in India.
Pfizer, which launched this kidney cancer drug in India in January, said in a release on Wednesday that it has established the Sutent patient assistance programme in Nepal in partnership with the US-based Axios Healthcare Development Inc., a non-profit corporation that implements humanitarian projects in developing countries with a focus on increasing access to drugs and quality health care.
Pfizer will implement the free patient assistance programme by partnering with two leading cancer hospitals in Nepal—BP Koirala Memorial Cancer Hospital and Patan Academy of Health Sciences.
“The Pfizer move will definitely have an impact on the ongoing trial at the Indian patent controller’s office on Natco’s application,” said a patent lawyer in Mumbai, requesting anonymity.
Natco had in January applied to the patent controller of India to allow the company to manufacture and export sunitinib mesylate (generic name of Sutent) to Nepal.
Pfizer was granted a patent for this drug in India in 2007, and it launched the same in the local market in January. The drug costs around Rs1.96 lakh for a 45-day treatment in India. While launching the product, Pfizer had also initiated the same patient assistance programme in the country but with a differential pricing scheme, though the number of patients who have received the treatment under the programme is not known.
“Pfizer is committed to bringing meaningful improvement to the lives of patients diagnosed with gastrointestinal tumour and advanced renal cell cancer,” Robert Mallett, Pfizer’s senior vice-president for worldwide public affairs and policy, said in the release. “Through patient assistance programmes like this, and working closely with the government and non-governmental organizations, we will continue to improve the availability of innovative medicines to patients in need in Nepal,” he said.
A person close to Natco said that Pfizer’s free access programme is good for the patients in Nepal, though such programmes cannot cover the entire patient population in any country.