The following is taken from an article originally published in The Wire. It has been reprinted here with permission from the author. The original can be accessed here.
New Delhi: Xtandi is a life-prolonging cancer drug and sells at about Rs 2.7 lakh for a month’s course in India – that’s for four tablets daily. It works for patients with stage-four prostate cancer who have exhausted their drug options and also cannot be treated with castration. The prostate is among the top ten sites of cancer in the Indian population and prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men worldwide.
Xtandi does not have a patent in India. Its patent application was rejected in 2016 on the grounds of “obviousness and lack of patentable invention”. This means patients are able to avail of generic versions that cost about Rs 70,000 a month, nearly three times less than the trademarked drug Xtandi.
But the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), which developed the drug with US taxpayer money and holds the patent, has bypassed the patent office and is fighting a battle in the Delhi high court. They are represented by former Union minister P. Chidambaram, who has made two appearances in the case this year. Of the hundreds of pages they have filed in their writ petition, which The Wire has reviewed, they have not mentioned even once that there are big pharmaceutical companies with whom UCLA has commercial relationships on this drug. And curiously, a Pfizer lawyer has been given the power of attorney.
A proxy battle for Pfizer, Medivation and Astellas
But what does Pfizer have to do with UCLA’s patent battle? Absolutely nothing, if one goes by what UCLA has filed in their petition.
However, other documents, as well as communication with The Wire, reveal that Pfizer has a lot to do with UCLA pursuing this battle. In fact, the legal battle is “filed and is being controlled and managed by and at the request of Medivation and its commercial partner Astellas,” according to a letter from John C. Mazziotta, the CEO of the UCLA Health System, on September 7, 2017. Pfizer acquired Medivation in 2016.
Although UCLA developed the drug with public money and holds the patent, it has given up any role in setting the price of the drug. As a result, in the US, the drug is sold at the highest price compared to any developed country, according to the Union for Affordable Cancer Treatment (UACT).
Xtandi is now increasingly inaccessible to the very public that funded it in the US, where it sells for about Rs 6.9 lakh per month ($10,772). With a price of Rs 2.7 lakh ($4,172) per month and a patent battle threatening generic production in India, the drug becomes inaccessible to the rest of the world as well.
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