Mumbai: Cipla Ltd, India’s second largest drug maker by sales, may launch copycat versions of 20 patented drugs of leading global drug makers, after securing similar-sounding trademarks for its copy brands.
The company, which has already launched generic versions of Swiss drug maker F Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd’s cancer medicine Erlotinib and anti-infection drug Valganciclovir, recently ran an “introduction shortly” list of 20 drugs in the weekly bulletin of the Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association (IDMA), an industry body.
Cloning versions: Chairman and MD of Cipla Yusuf Hamied.
The names of these drugs resemble the chemical names of well-known drugs that are either patented, or have been applied for registering patents in India, by global drug makers such as Pfizer Inc., GlaxoSmithKline Plc., Bristol Myers Squibb Co. and Novartis AG.
Cipla “may launch these generic brands in the market as and when the opportunity arises”, claimed a company executive, who didn’t want to be named. “It doesn’t necessarily mean the company doesn’t respect a patent regime, but the move will benefit poor patients who cannot afford an essential drug just because of a patent, which is not always as justified as it seems.”
Cipla has had a successful run in international markets, such as Africa, the past five years, launching cheap, generic versions of drugs developed by multinational companies for treating HIV/AIDS patients.
The company is currently fighting a patent infringement case in the Delhi high court over a generic version of Roche’s Erlotinib, which is marketed under the brand name Tarceva. Cipla started selling the generic drug in India in January under the brand name, Erlocip.
Mint had reported on 10 July that Cipla plans to launch Roche’s anti-infection drug Valganciclovir in India under the brand name Valcept.
The company had then justified its move saying that since the patents for both these drugs shouldn’t have been granted as per Indian law as it doesn’t allow patents for derivatives and minor modifications, as well as for molecules invented before the Indian Patent Act came into force.
Cipla argued that poor patients should not be subjected to suffer the high prices and low access to the medicines.
Advertising trademarks is a regular practice among drug makers globally as the non-use of a trademark could result in its registration expiring.
“An advertisement is also treated as a use since the products are not already in the market,” said Gopakumar Nair, a patent and trademarks consultant in Mumbai. “In this context, Cipla’s advertisement of the brand names, which are either already registered or are in the process for trademark in India or elsewhere, is only to secure those names so they can be used when such drugs are launched.”
A senior executive with a multinational company added: “Advertising trademarks is a regular practice by companies to attract opposition, if any.”
The brand names advertised by Cipla include Soranib, which resembles Bayer AG’s anti-cancer drug Sorafenib; Sunitib, resembling Pfizer’s anti-cancer drug Sunitinib; Sprydas, resembling Bristol Myer’s anti-cancer drug Dasatinib, which is marketed as Sprycel; Lapanib, which resembles Glaxo’s anti-cancer drug Lapatinib; and Nilotib, resembling Novartis’ anti-cancer drug Nilotinib.
All of them are anti-cancer drugs for which patents in India have either been granted, or the applications are pending.
The ad was reported in Patent Circle, a blog, and was also reviewed by Mint.