Stop AIDS Campaign activists from across the UK this week took an international campaign against Novartis to the gates of their UK plant, demanding the Swiss pharmaceutical giant drop a court case which campaigners say could end the supply of affordable medicines from India to the developing world.

The campaigners lined up at the gates of their Horsham research facility and, faces painted a deathly white, dropped to the ground in a stunt designed to represent the potential loss of life across Africa and Asia if Novartis win the case.

Stop AIDS Campaign Coordinator, Diarmaid McDonald said,

“This case is about a cancer drug, but the result will have a much wider impact on health of poor people all around the world. India is the pharmacy of the developing world and this case attacks the laws which make this affordable generic drug production possible. They are trying to stop the supply of affordable life-saving medicines to the world’s poor – it’s tantamount to trying to legalise murder.”

Novartis sought a new patent for an old cancer drug, Glivec, by re-applying with a new ‘salt form’ formulation. This application was rejected because India’s ‘3d’ patent law protects against such efforts to extend patent life – known as ‘evergreening’ – unless there is clear evidence that the innovation will deliver improved health outcomes for patients. Novartis have appealed to the Indian Supreme Court in an effort to weaken this law.
If they win the change in the interpretation of the law that will result will make it easier for drug companies to get unjustifiable extensions to their monopolies, and make it more difficult for generic companies to produce and sell the affordable generic medicines health care providers across Africa and Asia rely on. Over 80% of people receiving HIV treatment in the developing world are receiving Indian produced drugs.

The protest was part of a wave of angry opposition to the Novartis court case across the world. Campaigners in India, USA, Switzerland have taken to the streets in recent days in advance of a potential hearing on the 28th February. US activists occupied Novartis HQ on Thursday whilst the Novartis AGM was also targeted in Basel, Switzerland at the end of last week. Over 45,000 people have signed an Avaaz petition against the company’s actions and a huge Twitter push by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and others is adding to the pressure on the company to back down.

To a background of chants of ‘shame on you’ directed at those behind the gates at the plant, student campaigner, Fiona Robertson, from Brighton said:

“This is a blatant case of corporate greed. Novartis are putting the lives of millions at risk so they can boost their bottom line. It is a disgusting profit-driven attack on the health of the developing world. We demand Novartis drop the case now.”

The production of generic medicines is under attack on a number of fronts at the moment. The Novartis case follows closely from a global mobilisation against the EU-India Free Trade Agreement and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which also threaten global generic drug supplies