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US major Johnson and Johnson (J&J) has been granted a patent for its anti retroviral drug (ARV) Etravirine in India—the second anti-ARV drug to be patented in India. Pfizer, the world’s largest drug maker, received a patent for Maravoric last year, which made it the country’s first patented ARV drug. The drug got the US Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval in January 2008. J&J received the Indian patent from the Mumbai patent office recently, according to patent attorney Varoon Chhonkar, who tracks pharma patents in India.

The drug already has a US patent and is used in combination with anti-HIV drugs to treat patients who develop resistance to multiple HIV drug medication. The drug is marketed by Tibotec Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, under the brand name Intelence. It is not immediately known the kind of impact J&J’s approval will have in India which has 3 million HIV patients in the country. Experts say that the drug could help prolong the use of a particular drug in a patient. However, being a new drug its efficacy and relevance in developing countries like India is yet to be tested. NGOs and patient groups are studying the possible impact of the patent before deciding whether to file a post patent opposition against the drug.

Interestingly, industry sources claimed out that J&J may use the approval not only to target the Indian market but also as a tool to stop any Indian generic competitor from manufacturing cheap copies of the drug and exporting it globally. Similarly, a patent in India will also make J&J case much stronger when it seeks patent in other developing countries. Since India became Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) compliant in 1995, manufacturers can patent their products in India and enjoy a monopoly over marketing that product for 20 years. Global pharma companies have been aggressively filing patent applications across the country and some of them have been successful in getting patent protection in the country. However, patient groups and NGOs have been strongly opposing many applications saying that the drugs are not new products but mere innovations.

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