India mulls price control of 12 cancer drugs

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New Delhi: The prices of drugs to treat several life-threatening conditions, from leukaemia to breast cancer, can cost from Rs 3,000 to Rs 8 lakh. To make treatment affordable for patients the pharmaceutical pricing authority of India has recommended the inclusion of 12 such essential cures in the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM).

The recommendation reportedly gives priority to drugs with a potential for cure, and those that can benefit the maximum number of patients according to data from the national cancer registry programme. 

If the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) recommendation is accepted, many of these expensive drugs, could come under price control, providing a huge relief to cancer patients in India. As per the pharmaceutical pricing policy passed in 2012, any brand of drugs included in NLEM cannot cost more than the weighted average of all brands of that particular medicine that have a market share of at least one per cent.

What this means is that there could be a significant drop in prices where the difference in cost of using the original or “innovator” brand and its generic variants is significant. For instance, in the case of brain tumours, the current cost of treatment using Temozolomide is Rs 2.16 lakh for the innovator brand and Rs 20,000 for its generic variants. Likewise, for Irinotecan, which is used in treating a range of cancers including those in the lungs and ovaries, the cost ranges from Rs 1.87 lakh for innovator brands to Rs 25,000 for the generic ones. According to Dr P K Julka, professor of oncology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), “All of these are widely used and very useful drugs. Bringing them under price control will help a lot of patients.”

Indian Express reports that there is significant resistance to the move from the industry, which has criticised the move, warning that any form of price control may affect the “availability” of drugs.

D G Shah of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, an umbrella organisation for pharma companies said, “Determining essential medicines is the domain of experts, not of economists and bureaucrats. Enforcing price control may actually end up affecting the availability of these drugs in the long term.” In his view, “State funding of drugs, like in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, is the only viable way forward.”

The NPPA reportedly granted “post-facto approval” to the recommendation in a meeting of the authority on March 25. It also discussed another move to include cardiac stents in NLEM following reports of overpricing.

In its pricing recommendations, the NPPA kept in mind the non-availability of alternative medications of the same group and the price difference between various brands of the same drug, apart from prioritising drugs with a potential for cure, and those that can benefit the maximum number of patients. The recommendation was forwarded to the Department of Pharmaceuticals under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers some time ago and is awaiting approval. 

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