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India changes law regarding generic medicines

India's parliament recently passed legislation that amends the country's 35-year-old patent law regarding the manufacture of patented medicines by generic companies, in order to allow the country to join the World Trade Organization. Indian companies will now have to pay a licensing fee to the patent holders to continue producing the currently available copied drugs, known as generics. The new law also limits the ability of generic manufacturers to copy patented drugs in the future.

Since Indian companies are a major supplier of discounted antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, many fear that the law could prevent newer and better medicines from reaching the majority of people with HIV. Companies like Cipla and Ranbaxy supply affordable ARVs to millions of people in several countries. This new policy could mean that newer generics, if available, will come with much higher prices.

"It is unclear how these drugs will be made available in the future. It could hamper access to medicines because India has played such a huge role in providing drugs throughout the developing world," says Rachel Cohen, a US advocacy liaison at Doctors Without Borders. Cohen credits the actions of activist groups for influencing the Indian parliament from passing further limitations on the production of generic medicines.