TB in India: Patent Barriers and Challenges in Accessing New Medicines

A panel discussion on ‘TB in India: Patent Barriers and Challenges in Accessing New Medicines’ was organised by Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth (Deemed-to-be-university) in association with the Third World Network (TWN) Trust on 25 August 2020. Prathibha Sivasubramanian, Senior Researcher at TWN moderated the session and set the agenda for the discussion to be around the accessibility of new drugs for Drug-Resistant TB (DR-TB). This agenda was discussed from various perspectives. Nandita Venkatesan (TB survivor and an advocate for TB and disability) brought in the patient perspective, Leena Menghaney (Regional Head (South Asia) at the Access Campaign at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)) shed light from the perspective of civil society and Adv. Chetali Rao, IP lawyer and legal-policy expert, brought in perspectives from the practice point of view.

The speakers highlighted various aspects of the ongoing public health crisis. Leena Menghaney shared her inference from the MSF campaign and emphasized the need for more R&D to reduce the side-effects caused by injectables (the current treatment regime) that are painful and leave the patients with disabilities throughout their lives. Adv. Chetali pointed out that three drugs (Bedaquiline, Delamanid and Pretomanid) are in the Regulatory Market Approval stage, while many other promising drugs are undergoing clinical trials or are under preclinical development. These newer medicines and their combinations are more effective with fewer side-effects.

Nandita pointed to the report on TB released by the Government of India in March 2020, which clearly shows that not all patients are able to access Bedaquiline and Delamanid, two of the main life-saving drugs against TB. Of the 66,255 drug-resistant patients across the nation, only 5,513 had access to Bedaquiline and an even smaller number, 204 patients, had access to Delamanid. The unprecedented pandemic situation has made accessibility to available care worse than it was. Leena Menghaney said it’s a matter of right that the oral new medicines such as Bedaquiline be introduced in the treatment of TB. She observed that the pandemic has pushed for an all-oral regimen of drugs at home due to the disruption of transport and difficulty in administering injectables.

The panellists called for support from academics and lawyers to uphold the right of patients to access and afford efficacious anti-TB drugs.