Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has filed a “patent opposition” in India to block US pharmaceutical company Pfizer from patenting a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine.

This is the first time a vaccine (biosimilar) patent has been challenged in India by a medical organization and, if successful, will make affordable versions of this lifesaving vaccine available to developing countries and humanitarian organizations.

After years of fruitless negotiations with Pfizer to lower the vaccine’s price for use in its projects, MSF is challenging this patent application in India to ensure that other manufacturers can produce more affordable versions of the vaccine. This pre-grant opposition—a form of citizen review at the patent examination stage—argues that, on technical grounds, a certain aspect of the vaccine doesn’t merit patenting under India’s Patents Act. Pfizer is arguing they deserve a patent because the method of conjugating 13 serotypes of streptococcus pneumonia into a single carrier is new. An equivalent patent to the one opposed today in India has already been revoked by the European Patent Office (EPO) and is currently being challenged in South Korea.

“Our pre-grant opposition shows that the method Pfizer is trying to patent is too obvious to deserve a patent under Indian law, and is just a way to guarantee a market monopoly for Pfizer for many years to come,” said Leena Menghaney, head of MSF’s Access Campaign in South Asia. “India must rebuff demands from pharmaceutical companies, which are backed by diplomatic pressure tactics of the US and other governments, that India change its patentability standards to restrict generic competition. Pfizer’s unmerited patent application on the pneumonia vaccine should be rejected, opening the door to more affordable versions of the vaccines being produced.”

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