Govt may cap retail price of swine flu drugThe government may cap the retail price of anti-viral drug oseltamivir used for the treatment of swine flu if market competition does not force the price down, a senior official in the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers said.

The pharma industry, however, defended the pricing — ranging from Rs 450 to Rs 800 for a five-day course — as reasonable considering the shortage of the raw material.

"If prices do not behave for themselves than we will have to intervene,” the government official said on condition of anonymity. India reported 150 fresh cases of swine flu on Tuesday. Chemists said there is a near-monopoly scene in the market despite the launch of the drug by Natco Pharma, Hetero Drugs and Strides Arcolab. The only product available with most of the licensed chemists is Hetero’s brand Fluvir, said Pradeep Singh of New Delhi Medicos (a licensed chemist for selling oseltamivir) and member of All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists.

Currently, a strip of 10 tablets of Hetero’s Fluvir cost Rs 449 while Cipla’s Virenza is priced at around Rs 800 for a pack of 20 rotacaps (powdered medication stored in a capsule) along with an inhaler. Natco Pharma has launched its brand Natflu at a price of Rs 480 for a bottle of 10 capsules. A Natco official said the retail price includes excise component and margins for distribution and stockists.

While the open market prices remain high, the government procurement price of oseltamivir has come down substantially from Rs 343 to Rs 260 for 10 tablets since the outbreak of the disease in India. The lack of acceptance of second line drugs is also partly responsible for low visibility of the drug. According to Mr Singh of New Delhi Medicos, a second line drug Zanamivir, sold under Cipla’s brand Virenza, is available but the demand is only for the first line drugs.

The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has asked four MNC drug makers — Baxter, Novartis, Sanofi Aventis and Glaxosmithkline — to submit detailed dossiers for safety and efficacy review of their swine flu drugs. “The companies will soon start their bridge tests of the vaccine on around 300 people in India under the supervision of Indian Council of Medical Research,” DCGI Dr Surinder Singh said.