Delhi HC reserves order in Novartis-Cipla row over respiratory drug Onbrez

The Delhi High Court has reserved its judgment on a dispute between MNC drug firm Novartis and Indian generic drugs major Cipla over the manufacture and sale of the drug Indacaterol, which is used in the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Cipla started manufacture and sale of Indacaterol powder under the name `Unibrez', earlier this year, but later changed the name to ''Indaflo'' following court orders in November on a plea of trademark infringement by Novartis.

Cipla sells the generic version of the drug at Rs130 for 10 pills, a fifth of the price of the Novartis' Onbrez, which is sold at Rs677 (for 10 pills).

This means the drug can be made cheaper locally, but Novartis seems to be in no mood to make the drug cheaper and it has made it clear in its affidavit that it won't allow an affordable version of a medicine to be sold in the market as long as its patent holds.

In fact, Novartis has argued that despite the government's call for making healthcare affordable, it will continue to import, and not locally manufacture, the drug.

It has said that it will continue to import the drug from Switzerland, according to the demand, and that the constitutional right to life, Article 21 (invoked by Cipla), is "misconceived and untenable".

Novartis holds the patents for the Indacaterol maleate salt as well as the manufacturing process for the drug, which is sold in India as an inhalation powder and inhaler under the trademark name of 'Onbrez' through Lupin since 2010.

Justice Manmohan Singh is hearing the case while Gopal Subramaniam is representing Novartis and P Chidambaram is arguing for Cipla.

There are an estimated 15 million patients suffering from lung and respiratory diseases in India while Novartis has made the imported drug available to 8,000 patients over the last two years, Cipla pointed out.

Novartis's stand is a clear violation of the India IP laws, which stipulate that the patent has to be 'locally worked', so that it is affordable and available to patients in the country.

Novartis like other MNCs is in an extended fight over alleged patent infringements in India, seeking to restrain generic firms like Cipla from selling affordable versions of patented drugs in the domestic market.