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Indian patent office grants patent to Pfizer for Prevnar 13

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The granting of this patent would block other manufacturers in India from supplying this vaccine

Indian patent office has granted a patent to the US pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer for its PCV13 product, marketed as Prevnar13. Patient groups have warned that this patent has dealt a major blow to hopes of improved access to an affordable pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) that safeguards both children and adults from pneumonia.

“It’s unfair and unacceptable that almost a million children die each year from pneumonia, even though a life-saving vaccine is available. Children everywhere have a right to be protected from pneumonia, but many governments can’t afford the prices set by Pfizer,” said Dr Prince Mathew, Asia Regional Coordinator for MSF. “We urgently need additional manufacturers to rapidly introduce competition with the aim of lowering vaccine prices.”

The granting of this patent would block other manufacturers in India from supplying this vaccine – which protects against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria (PCV-13) – to those who need it most.

According to Leena Menghaney, South Asia Head for MSF’s Access Campaign, “The method Pfizer is trying to patent is too obvious to deserve a patent under Indian law, and is just a way to guarantee an extended market monopoly for the corporation for many years to come.”

Dr Anas Shorman, a paediatrician working for MSF in Jordan, added, “In our work, we see many children with life-threatening respiratory infections; many deaths could be prevented if more kids were vaccinated with PCV. More than 50 countries have spoken out against high vaccine prices, and children in countries like Indonesia, Jordan and Tunisia simply can’t wait any longer to get access to the life-saving pneumonia vaccine.”

The Indian patent office’s decision also has broader implications, as it indicates a weakening of India’s strict patentability standards, which results in granting monopolies for minor and trivial improvements of existing medical products, as allowed in some other countries. Such ever-greening practices will hamper India’s role as ‘pharmacy of the developing world,’ supplying governments and procurers like MSF with affordable medicines and vaccines.

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