As we celebrate the efficacy of section 3(d) and our stringent patent opposition mechanism that inter alia, led to the invalidation of a key patent underlying Tamiflu, the Chinese have taken an alternative route, albeit a healthier one. Don't get me wrong; the term "healthy" does not reflect a comparative value judgment of any sort..it simply highlights the fact that, as with most things allopathic, Tamiflu comes with its fair share of side effects.
A report states as below:
"Jin Hua Qing Gan Fang, a Chinese herbal remedy, is found effective in A/H1N1 swine flu patients, according to a leading Chinese daily.
Jin Hua Qing Gan Fang, also called “Jin Hua” is being hailed as the world’s first traditional Chinese medicine to treat the A/H1N1 swine flu by the Chinese news papers.
Clinical studies spanning seven months have come out with adequate scientific evidence that the Chinese herbal remedy Jin Hua Qing Gan Fangan can shorten patients’ fever period and improve their respiratory systems, reports said quoting medical experts from China.
Jin Hua Qing Gan Fangan has no adverse side-effects.
Above all, Jin Hua Qing Gan Fangan is also very cheap. The medication cost only about a quarter of the cost of Tamiflu - the widely used anti-flu drug of Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the treatment of the A/H1N1 swine flu.
The municipal government in Beijing has gathered the most outstanding medical experts in the Chinese capital to develop the new medication, stated Zhao Jing, director of the Beijing Municipal Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which had earmarked 10 million yuan (1.47 million U.S. dollars) for the project.
More than 120 medical specialists, led by academicians Wang Yongyan and Li Lianda from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, had participated in the research over the past seven months."
India and TK Incentives?
All this leads one to wonder: has India been successful at leveraging its traditional medicinal wisdom in a manner similar to the Chinese? Some reports claim the efficacy of an ancient Indian medicinal plant, the "Tulsi" in taking on the flu. But have any of our local herbal companies tried "innovating" from traditional Tulsi leaves to reach an optimal cure--in much the same way that the Chinese did. Have they, at the very least, conducted some trials to establish the efficacy of Tulsi in this regard?
One may remember the controversial Satwant Committee (data exclusivity) report, a controversy enlivened more recently by the commissioning of a WHO/government of India sponsored report on this theme. Perhaps the one proposal (by the Satwant Committee) that met with the least resistance was to have a fixed exclusivity period for protecting data generated from clinical trials involving traditional medicines. AYUSH, the governmental department responsible for traditional medicines, was firmly behind this proposal--the idea being that such exclusivity might incentivise herbal players to do more testing on traditional medication and make it more palatable for Western export markets. Perhaps its time to revisit this proposal again.
Unfortunately, as we've often lamented in the past, the key obstacle to having any sort of healthy discussion on innovation policy in India is that we've framed our entire debate around pharmaceutical patents, an area characterised more by shrill emotions than cold logic. If we have to move forward, it is imperative that we delink our innovation policy debates from pharmaceuticals and adopt a more sector based approach.
Our patent regime (section 3(p) of the Indian patents Act) currently prevents the patenting of any invention based on traditional knowledge. The critical question is: how much work does one need to do on traditional knowledge before it becomes patentable? Much like section 3(d), would we peg the standards high?
These and other issues need careful deliberation and it is critical that we align our incentive structures in an optimal manner to achieve what I'd earlier called the "Neem Revolution". We cannot afford to remain content with a "defensive" approach, where we block patents that free ride on our ancient wisdom. Rather we have to pro-actively leverage our traditional knowledge to bring in more wealth for the nation and health for the world. The TKDL initiative is a pioneering one, that many other countries appear to be copying. However, it needs to move beyond its "defensive" confines and find ways to actively leverage the wealth of wisdom trapped inside.
But before I sign off, I want to pick your brains on an issue that continues to puzzle me:
Does India's excessive focus on generics come at the cost of it's progress on traditional medicine? Or are the two mutually exclusive? Most of us are well aware that, notwithstanding the intense hostility between innovators and generics, "price controls" are one area where both these waring factions come together... both oppose it vehemently! Are "traditional medicines" the other area that provokes sentiments sharp enough to bring these two strange bedfellows together?