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Costly treatment NGOs challenge patent monopoly of leukaemia drug

Novartis sign

Drugs firms like Novartis say patent monopoly pays for innovation, but critics say it allows them to set higher prices.

(© Keystone / Georgios Kefalas)

Two NGOs have challenged the patent protection of a leukaemia drug produced by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis. They complain that the patent on the drug Kymriah allows Novartis to charge inflated prices for its use on patients.

Pressure groups Public Eye and Médecins du Monde have filed their objection to the European patent office in Munich. They claim that Kymriah was not invented by Novartis because the research behind the drug was carried out by public institutions.

The medicament, which is used to treat leukaemia and lymph gland cancer on patients who have not responded to previous therapies, costs CHF370,000 ($375,000) per infusion. This makes it the most expensive drug in Switzerland, say the NGOs.

The Swiss health insurance association Santèsuisse is prepared to cover CHF200,000 of this expense for patients treated in Switzerland, according to Swiss public broadcaster SRFexternal link.

If the NGOs succeed in nullifying the patent, Novartis will still be able to sell the drug but without having a monopoly that allows it to charge more.

The decisions of the Munich patent authority are binding on Switzerland despite not being a member state of the European Union. Novartis told the Swiss news agency Keystone-SDA that its lawyers are analysing the legal challenge.

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