Novartis is under renewed pressure from the international aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders) to drop its legal challenge against India's patent laws.

As shareholders of the Swiss major met in Basel, MSF called on them to urge the company to drop its case against the Indian government. The latter relates to Novartis' challenge to an Indian patent law, notably Section 3(d), which states that a modification of a known chemical composition is non-patentable.

Novartis' legal action stems from an attempt to obtain an Indian patent on Gleevec/Glivec (imatinib mesylate), its drug for chronic myeloid leukaemia and other cancers, which was denied by India's Patent Office in 2006. If the company wins the case, MSF says it could have a severe impact on access to affordable medicines for people across the developing world.

Unni Karunakara, MSF’s international president, said “we are asking Novartis once and for all to stop this legal battle in India that is a direct attack on the pharmacy of the developing world". He added that "we will not stand by silently and watch our source of affordable medicines dry up in the future - we rely on these drugs to do our work in more than 60 countries".

The hearing is scheduled to take place before India’s Supreme Court in March, and India’s Attorney General has just been appointed to defend the case for the government. MSF noted that generic medicines produced in India make up 80% of the HIV drugs it uses to treat 170,000 people in 19 countries.