Earlier this week the Guardian and the BBC reported on a landmark ruling in India which will hopefully pave the way for greater access to lifesaving generic drugs in developing countries.

The Indian supreme court has rejected a new patent on a “slightly altered” version of Glivec, a cancer treatment drug developed by the pharmaceutical company Novartis. They concluded that the Novartis’s changes were an attempt at ‘evergreening’, making small changes in order to gain a new patent.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said that the ruling will “save a lot of lives across the developing world”, and the Cancer Patients Aid Association in India (CPAA) said it is “a huge victory for human rights”.

The ruling highlights the importance of addressing the profound imbalance in the way that potentially life-saving knowledge is shared. We need laws, policies and practises that recognise the value of sharing and collaboration around critical information, rather than focusing exclusively on protection and compensation.

Dr Unni Karunakara, the International President of Médecins Sans Frontières said:

At the moment medical innovation is financed through high drug prices backed up by patent monopolies, at the expense of patients and governments in developing countries who cannot afford those prices. Instead of seeking to abuse the patent system by bending the rules and claiming ever longer patent protection on older medicines, the pharmaceutical industry should focus on real innovation, and governments should develop a framework that allows for medicines to be developed in a way that also allows for affordable access.

As the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Advisory Board Member Glyn Moody wrote in TechDirt:

The fact that many key drugs have only been possible thanks to [..] “vital investments made by the public sector” is nearly always overlooked by defenders of the pharma patent system. It’s another reason why the Indian Supreme Court’s decision is not only right, but just.

As well as fairer, more balanced laws and policies supporting the development of life-saving generic drugs in developing countries, we want to see more open access to the results of medical research – especially that which is publicly funded.

As we wrote about a few weeks ago, we think a major part of this will be an open database of clinical trials to give doctors, patients and researchers access to information about the results and methods of trials related to the drugs that they research, prescribe and take.

If you’re interested in following our work in this area, you can join our open-science discussion list by filling in your details in the form below:

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Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at jonathangray.org and he tweets at @jwyg.

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