SpicyIP Tidbit: It is time to test the claim of patient assistance programs by Big Pharma

One of the constant refrains from Big Pharma companies involved in patent litigation against generic companies in India is that they are targeting only the prosperous middle class which can afford their drugs and not the poor of the country, to whom they supply their drugs free under their patient assistance programs. 
It is time somebody tested these claims by Big Pharma companies in India. Any Big Pharma company making such a claim in open court should be made to file an affidavit by its Managing Director testifying on oath, to the efficacy of the program and providing details on the exact number of patients receiving the drug under patient assistance program. Let us see how many managing directors file such affidavits detailing both the degree of ‘assistance’ and the number of patients who receive such assistance. I think Novartis filed such an affidavit for Glivec but I do not know of any other company which has filed an affidavit to this effect in any patent litigation in India. 
Unlike in the U.S. or Europe where Big Pharma companies openly advertise their patient assistance programs on their websites, you will be hard pressed to find similar information for Indian patients. Big Pharma should be made answerable for this discrepancy, since they are the ones who are making this claim. The only way Indian patients can access such programs in India is if their doctor makes a recommendation but given that Indian hospitals make super profits at the retail level by selling such drugs, they have little or no incentive to recommend that patients be put on assistance programs. 
Truth be told, most of these patient assistance programs are nothing but a fluffy public relations initiative. If these companies really wanted to make these programs effective, you would atleast find the telephone number of one of these assistance programs. Even the patient assistance programs that I am aware of are all discount ventures where you if you buy 90% of the doses, the remaining 10% are given free. At the very least patient assistance programs should take care of 50% of the cost that is not covered by an insurance program or presuming that there is no insurance, then 50% of the entire cost. 
Even that 10% is not guaranteed for the duration of your treatment. For instance, I know of one Big Pharma company, which after cutting the prices of one of its cancer drugs, followed it up by junking its patient assistance program on the grounds that its drugs were now cheaper and thus patients were no longer entitled to even the 10% discount that was given to them in the first place. 
You either have to be some kind of heartless moron or a rank idiot to tell cancer patients that they are no longer entitled for the 10% discount because of a price cut which reduced the price of a drug from its original platinum standard to a gold standard. Unfortunately, Big Pharmas subsidiaries in India have no qualms in enforcing such moronic policies. 
Like I have said before on this blog, I do not have any moral qualms about defending the idea of pharmaceutical patents. In a country like India, that puts me in the devils camp but even I have problems with blatant lies and misrepresentation by some of these pharmaceutical companies. If they want to enforce their patents, please go ahead and do it but don’t lie about your patient assistance programs. That is the least that these companies owe to cancer patients fighting for their lives.

Prashant Reddy

T. Prashant Reddy graduated from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, with a B.A.LLB (Hons.) degree in 2008. He later graduated with a LLM degree (Law, Science & Technology) from the Stanford Law School in 2013. Prashant has worked with law firms in Delhi and in academia in India and Singapore. He is also co-author of the book Create, Copy, Disrupt: India's Intellectual Property Dilemmas (OUP).


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