Intellectual Thoughts by Sanjay Panda: Sanofi Drug Hits New Hurdle With Indian Knockoffs

Sanofi Drug Hits New Hurdle With Indian Knockoffs

Sanofi-Aventis SA's "Acomplia" the weight- loss pill, linked to suicide, is becoming popular in generic form from India which may end the product's chances of ever reaching the U.S., where it has been delayed by regulators.

Cipla Ltd. and Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. are among six drugmakers exploiting a loophole in India patent laws, selling copies of the medicine under names like Slimona and Defat. The pills are sold without prescription for as little as 12 cents. Sanofi had predicted Acomplia would generate $3 billion a year. Sanofi's earnings have dropped for four straight quarters. The drugmaker is losing patent protection on older medicines such as the sleep pill Ambien. Sanofi withdrew its U.S. marketing application for Acomplia on June 29 after the FDA raised safety concerns.

Under Indian intellectual property law, pharmaceutical companies can use a process called reverse engineering to make drugs patented before 1995. The patent on Acomplia, which regulates hunger impulses, dates to 1994. Sanofi received approval to sell Acomplia in India in May, the same month as the generic-drug makers.

The Indian regulator approved rimonabant, or generic Acomplia, requiring patients get a prescription and medical advice on its risks. Those include depression and anxiety --side effects that were serious enough to prompt an FDA panel of advisers to reject the pill.

India is growing obese. Almost a third of women and more than a fifth of men living in urban areas are considered overweight, according to a government survey last year.

Obesity can lead to high blood pressure and diabetes, to which South Asians have a genetic predisposition. Indian men are three to four times more likely than East Asian, African American, Hispanic or Caucasian men to develop insulin resistance that leads to diabetes, according to a study last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Torrent Pharmaceuticals Ltd. started selling its version, Rimoslim, two months ago and aims to sell 100 million rupees' worth within 12 months. Rimoslim is an extremely affordable therapy for the masses.


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