It is time for India to reconsider its position in intellectual property (IP), relative to the pharmaceutical and lifesciences industry, said David Ricks, Chief Executive Officer with American drugmaker Eli Lilly, adding that affordable generic medicines and supporting IP were not “incompatible ideas”.

“IP is the root for what we do. We invent new matter and then prove its utility in diseases. Without IP, these 12-15 years exercise, costing $3-5 billion per molecule would never be undertaken. It is time for India to reconsider its position in IP relative to our industry.” he said, delivering a strong keynote address at the BioAsia 2024 conclave in Hyderabad.

His insights come at a time when the world debates health inequities and avenues to keep medicines affordable, through possible IP flexibilities and waivers in the global trade arena. In fact, the observations comes even as the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) undertakes its ‘Special 301’ exercise to evaluate trade partners on IP.

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Pointing to specific policies in India, “set up for good reason”, Ricks said, “in hindsight, we can perhaps reflect upon them and find redundant policies that only cause delays and extra costs which has a two-way effect of reducing new medicines from companies like mine to join the Indian market and reducing the ability of local biotechs to export their inventions seamlessly across the world”.

Not incompatible

Further, he said the debate between the developing world or global south and the developed world, was largely a “false narrative”. “We can have affordable generics that are available for common diseases, and we can make sure medicines are affordable for developing world and at the same time, support IP to create marvellous inventions like our Alzheimer’s and obesity therapies that can serve the globe. These are not incompatible ideas,” he said.

He urged India’s policymakers tocollaborate with other nations “to form a 2-track system for both types of products for medical need – commonly used medicines should be affordable to all, and new medicines that can reach this population and others to address the leading causes of adult diseases in developing world.”

Obesity drug

Eli Lilly’s chief told Reuters that he expected to launch their obesity drug tirzepatide in India as early as next year. The drug is sold under the brand name Mounjaro for diabetes and Zepbound for weight-loss in the United States, the agency report said.