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The Supreme Court today asked Swiss pharma giant Novartis AG whether it should not sell its anti-cancer drug for Rs 5 each to benefit common man.

A Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranajan Prakash Desai posed the query to Novartis AG while hearing its plea seeking affirmation of the exclusivity of its blood cancer drug Glivec and its right to get it patented in India.

“Why don’t you sell it for Rs 5? People find it difficult to buy it,” the Bench asked senior counsel Gopal Subramanium as he, appearing for the firm, argued that getting the drug patented would not affect the treatment of the poor.

Taking a dig at the huge cost of the drug, the Bench remarked in a lighter vein the cost was perhaps prohibitive even for the apex court judges.

“The monthly cost of Rs 1.2 lakh is too high. The Government may revoke our reimbursement of medical bill if it goes to that extent,” the Bench quipped.

The Bench observed that public “trust comes not from the pricing but from the efficacy of the drug”.

It made the observation as Subramanium asserted that it has the right to patent its blood cancer drug as it was a completely new medicine, while seeking to assure the court that treatment to the poor patients would not be affected because of it.

The firm tried to dispel the impression that its drug would be beyond the reach of the poor cancer patients as the Bench said the pricing of the medicine was in its sub-conscious mind as the monthly dosage costs around Rs 1.2 lakh.

“The purpose is not to make money from the poor. This is not the purpose but am I not entitled for patent for our drug? We are fighting the case on principle,” said Subramanium.

“We are totally conscious of our social responsibility.

Conduct of Novartis is socially responsible and we are fighting for our rights for patent,” he said when the Bench observed that the cost of the drug is too high.

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