Health, wealth and IPR

Katya Naidu reports on the Second Healthcare and Pharma Summit organised by the students of the Healthcare Club of the Indian School of Business (ISB).

The strong and rapidly growing pharma industry in India has done nothing to the number of people who are devoid of medication in the country. These sentiments have put the pharma industry between a rock and a hard place. So when the crème de la creme got together to give a round up of the pharma industry at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, they presented their side of the story on the DPCO issue. “We have the lowest priced medicines in the world but unfortunately 65 percent of the population has no access. It is a shame and challenge both and there is no short-term relief,” asserted Ranjit Shahani, Vice-Chairman and MD of Novartis.

Food and medication are always scarce commodities and the task lies in maximising these resources. He said that there is a huge gap between the industry and people without money. Who will fill the gap? Is pharma industry the only one responsible, he questioned. Ajit Dangi, Director General of Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI) echoed similar sentiments. “When we see a naked man in the street, do we blame the textile industry? Then why do we blame the pharma industry,” he said.

Dangi went on to talk about the state of IPR and its elements. “Unfortunately, in India, copyright is interpreted as right to copy,” he quipped. He talked of the importance of IPR and how CSIR fought for the patent for turmeric against University of Mississippi and won. “Way back in the times of Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan had chopped off fingers of the artisans who built the structure. Fortunately, today we have better ways of protecting IPR,” he said.

In his welcome address, M R Rao, the Dean of ISB narrated a snippet about ISB. What every company talks of these days is dearth of talent, most of all, IT companies. ISB campus is located amidst a number of IT companies in Hyderabad. Moreover, Infosys is just across the road. When M R Rao, met with Mohandas Pai, the HR Head of Infosys, they talked about the increasing student numbers over the years. ISB had started off with about 200 students and now has about 400. So as expected, Pai asked, “Are you going to be 600 students next academic year?” Rao was aghast and said, “We are not a software industry.” And Pai quipped, “If you don’t, I will put up a board saying trespassers will be hired.”

A blind tale

Sailesh Ayyangar, MD of Aventis Pharma gave an interesting metaphor by comparing the state of IPR in India with three blind men giving different views on an elephant. He talked of traditional impressions on IPR—that they restrict one man’s idea, they hurt the domestic industry and patents are a Western note of economic prosperity. “But all these views are not totally untrue,” he said. However, he upheld the system by saying, “Pharma industry is one of the most patented and 65 percent of pharma companies would not have even launched their products if not for IPR.”

Kewal Handa, the Managing Director of Pfizer talked on the state of regulatory affairs in India. “If we had the right amount of regulation, the productivity can be increased by 61 percent,” he said. The industry considers patents as innovation and growth but the government considers it compliance. In addition, the regulatory processes are so tedious that by the time a new product finishes site regulations, chemical regulations and more, the medicine is already old. While pointing out the issues of over regulation, he also talked about the absence of self-regulation within the industry and pointed out the dubious practices of companies offering gifts to doctors in the name of marketing. Finally, he gave a note of hope, “India’s lies in India’s hands, it is how you make it.”