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Editorial

US should tighten rules for patenting changes to drugs

The ruling by India’s supreme court to reject a patent for Gleevec, a powerful cancer drug, is a victory for patients seeking more affordable treatment. India has a woeful history of ignoring patents, but in this case, the court was rightfully skeptical of so-called “evergreening,” the practice of tweaking existing drugs to prolong a firm’s hold on a patent. There’s good evidence this kind of widespread patenting is impeding, not promoting, the search for new, more innovative medications — and driving up costs for American consumers. It’s time to reexamine the US patent system, too.

Monday’s verdict will have little impact on Gleevec’s maker, Novartis, which says 95 percent of patients using Gleevec in India do so free of charge. Gleevec is patented in 40 other countries, yielding about $5 billion in profits annually.

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