The Cancer Divide: India’s Efforts to Aid Poor Worry Drug Makers

“The Cancer Divide: India’s Efforts to Aid Poor Worry Drug Makers.” by Gardiner Harris, The New York Times.

NEW DELHI — Alka Kudesia needs an expensive drug to treat her breast cancer, but refuses to tell her children for fear they will take out loans to buy the medicine and spend the rest of their lives in debt.

The drug, Herceptin, is one of the most effective treatments for an aggressive form of breast cancer. But in India, at a cost of at least $18,000 for one course of treatment, only a small fraction of the women who need it get it. The Indian government last year threatened to allow production of less costly, generic versions of Herceptin. Its maker, Roche Holdings of Switzerland, initially resisted, but surrendered its patent rights this year in large measure because it concluded that it would lose a legal contest in Indian courts. The skirmishing over Herceptin and other cancer medicines is part of a new and critical phase in a struggle to make drugs affordable to the world’s poorest people, one that began in earnest more than a decade ago when advocates campaigned successfully to make AIDS medicines accessible to millions of Africans.

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