India foils bid to get patent for vitiligo cure
NEW DELHI: India has for the first time ever managed to foil a bio-piracy bid in a record three weeks
Thanks to the recently created Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), which has till now completed documenting over two lakh medical formulations of Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani to save them from piracy, the European Patent Office (EPO) has canceled its earlier “intent to grant patent” order to a Spanish company on the use of melon extract to cure vitiligo (leucoderma) — a disease that causes skin de-pigmentation to almost 65 million people globally.
Interestingly, under India’s ancient Unani system of medicine, hakeems have for hundreds of years been using melon extract to cure this disease. Michael Jackson was probably the world’s most famous vitiligo patient.
After studying India’s documents available in the TKDL which confirmed “evidence of prior art”, the EPO has decided against granting patent for the anti-vitiligo cream to the Spanish company Perdix group SL.
Earlier patent related challenges made by India lasted years. Among the most famous were the patent application over neem’s anti-fungal properties which took India 10 years to revoke, the patent application on the wound healing properties of turmeric which took three years, and that of Basmati rice against an US-based company which took well over a year.
A Union health ministry official told TOI, “This is a major victory for us. The TKDL, which has documented and translated knowledge of traditional Indian medicines from Hindi, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Tamil to five international languages — English, Japanese, French, German and Spanish — will greatly help in fighting foreign companies and countries from claiming patents over information and practices already available in India.”
It took eight years to create the TKDL.
In order to confirm EPO’s order, TOI scanned through its website and found that application number EP1747786 titled, “Natural product in cream with anti-vitiligo (leucoderma) therapeutic properties”, was filed by Perdix Euro group SL, Spain, in July 2006.
The patent was for a cream that uses vegetal ingredients such as melon, bay rum and lemon, which when employed on the white patches resulted in regeneration of melanocytes.
EPO decided to grant the Spanish company patent for its cream on June 4, 2009.
On July 8, 2009, India provided evidence to EPO — books like Quarabadeen Najmul Ghani, Khazain-al-Adviyah and Muheet-e-Azam by Indian hakeems Mohammad Najmul Ghani Khan and Mohammad Azam Khan — that extensively talked about melon’s anti-vitiligo properties and how it has been used here for over 1,200 years. On July 27, EPO cancelled its intention to grant patent to the Spanish company.
Treatment options for vitiligo are presently limited. Current day options include phototherapy which needs to be administered for three days every week for three years to achieve even partial pigmentation — that too in only 30% of the patients.
Ministry officials said, “However in phototherapy, even normal areas suffer unnecessary UV exposure. Instead, under the Unani system, which uses a paste of the peel of the melon skin, cures only those parts affected by vitiligo.”
They added, “Most of us don’t believe in India’s traditional medicines. This will prove how India’s traditional knowledge is of such great demand across the world and is tried and tested.”
reprinted from India foils Spanish company’s bid to get patent for vitiligo cure
Kounteya Sinha, TNN 17 September 2009, 02:41am IST