Absent Mallya hopes for Force India boost at Spain Grand Prix


  India has granted a patent to US pharmaceutical giant Gilead for a blockbuster Hepatitis C drug, in a U-turn activists said could potentially stop affordable copies reaching millions of people in other countries.  The drug, Sovaldi, which costs $1,000 (£690) a pill in the United States, was rejected for a patent in January 2015 following opposition by health activists who said the science was not sufficiently new.  But after an appeal by Gilead, the Indian Patent Office on Monday granted its application for the drug, chemically known as sofosbuvir, saying it found the “compounds novel, inventive and patentable”.  “This decision underlines the scientific innovation involved in the development of this breakthrough treatment for chronic Hepatitis C,” Gilead spokesman Nick Francis said in a statement.  The ruling will not immediately affect patients in India, where several firms are licensed by Gilead to produce low-cost versions of sofosbuvir for sale in developing countries.  But drug access campaigners slammed the decision, saying it could prevent the export of raw materials to other countries seeking to make the drug that some have hailed as a miracle cure.  “We know there are millions of people in other countries who now won’t have affordable access because of this decision,” said Leena Menghaney, South Asia head of the Medecins Sans Frontieres’ Access Campaign.  “It will block a sustainable supply of key raw materials needed to produce the drug in countries like Egypt, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and hence affect production by new suppliers,” she said.  Tahir Amin, co-founder of the group Intellectual Property, Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge said the patent office’s decision was “flawed”.  “(It) ignores the scientific facts and fails to uphold the standards of Indian patent law to ensure only new inventions are patented,” he said.  India earned a nickname as the pharmacy to the developing world for its tough stance on patents, taking a view that they should be granted only for major innovations, not updates to existing compounds.  More than 130 million people live with chronic Hepatitis C worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, and 500,000 die each year from related liver diseases.
India has granted a patent to US pharmaceutical giant Gilead for a blockbuster Hepatitis C drug, in a U-turn activists said could potentially stop affordable copies reaching millions of people in other countries. The drug, Sovaldi, which costs $1,000 (£690) a pill in the United States, was rejected for a patent in January 2015 following opposition by health activists who said the science was not sufficiently new. But after an appeal by Gilead, the Indian Patent Office on Monday granted its application for the drug, chemically known as sofosbuvir, saying it found the “compounds novel, inventive and patentable”. “This decision underlines the scientific innovation involved in the development of this breakthrough treatment for chronic Hepatitis C,” Gilead spokesman Nick Francis said in a statement. The ruling will not immediately affect patients in India, where several firms are licensed by Gilead to produce low-cost versions of sofosbuvir for sale in developing countries. But drug access campaigners slammed the decision, saying it could prevent the export of raw materials to other countries seeking to make the drug that some have hailed as a miracle cure. “We know there are millions of people in other countries who now won’t have affordable access because of this decision,” said Leena Menghaney, South Asia head of the Medecins Sans Frontieres’ Access Campaign. “It will block a sustainable supply of key raw materials needed to produce the drug in countries like Egypt, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and hence affect production by new suppliers,” she said. Tahir Amin, co-founder of the group Intellectual Property, Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge said the patent office’s decision was “flawed”. “(It) ignores the scientific facts and fails to uphold the standards of Indian patent law to ensure only new inventions are patented,” he said. India earned a nickname as the pharmacy to the developing world for its tough stance on patents, taking a view that they should be granted only for major innovations, not updates to existing compounds. More than 130 million people live with chronic Hepatitis C worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, and 500,000 die each year from related liver diseases.

Embattled Force India co-owner Vijay Mallya will not be attending Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix but he is hoping for a change of fortune on the track at least for his Formula One team in Barcelona.

The Indian government last month revoked Mallya’s diplomatic passport, which he had been entitled to as a member of the upper house of parliament, and asked Britain to deport him.

Indian bankers are seeking repayment of about $1.4 billion (£970 million) owed by his defunct Kingfisher Airlines. He told the Financial Times at the end of April that he was in “forced exile” and had no plans to leave Britain.

The team confirmed that the 60-year-old beer baron, who has missed all four races so far this season and looks unlikely to be able to get to one until the British Grand Prix in July, would be absent from Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya.

The Force India principal’s financial problems have made more headlines than the results of team drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez this season but Mallya hoped a package of aerodynamic upgrades would bring some good news.

“It’s on schedule to be fitted to both cars ahead of Friday practice,” the Indian said in a team preview for the race. “It’s pretty comprehensive and the car will look quite different.”

A team spokesman said the upgrades would affect the bodywork around the cars’ sidepods, front wing and floor.

Mercedes-powered Force India, who achieved a best ever finish of fifth overall in the 2015 constructors’ championship, have scored only eight points so far in 2016 and are eighth in the standings.

Both drivers have suffered misfortune and accidents, caught up in chaos on the first lap of the most recent race in Russia.

“I hope we’ve used up all of our bad luck already,” said Mallya. “We’ve yet to see how we perform in a clean, trouble-free race without safety cars, red flags or accidents.

“Despite not realising our potential in Sochi (the Russian Grand Prix), we took encouragement from our qualifying and race pace: the car is improving and we’ve got a good base on which to build.”