Governments efforts to bring in affordable patented medicines for chronic and lifestyle ailments may hit a roadblock with multinational companies trying to stall the more.
The mechanism would have increased affordability of drugs like Tarceva, Herceptin, Pegasys and Januvia used for treatment of chronic ailments, which at present are exorbitantly priced, costing patients lakhs of rupees every year.
It is understood that government had put forth a model to pharma MNCs, which has not met with much enthusiasm from the industry. Under the mechanism discussed with industry body Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI), the government has asked MNCs to ensure that patented drugs introduced in the country are priced cheapest here than anywhere in the world.
When contacted, an OPPI representative said, "We have submitted our comments to the government and would not like to talk about it till the issue is finalized". At present, these drugs, mainly for oncology, HIV, diabetes and heart disease are out of the reach of the common man.
Significantly, the recommendations say that patented block-buster drugs which have no substitute in the market and offer substantial therapeutic benefit, should be offered at prices 40% to 70% cheaper than the maximum retail price through the public health system, official sources said.
In other words, a patient who has been prescribed these drugs can procure them if he has a prescription generated through a government hospital.
For such drugs, the government will not charge any taxes, and since these are directly delivered to the patient there would be no trade margins, which would have pushed up costs further. This second class of patented drugs, which are part of the mechanism under discussion, would constitute a small number, only two or three novel drugs of a total of say, 10 patented drugs imported into the country.
The recommendations are important as it would have set the trend for future discussion, and finally brought in a system to improve access and affordability of patented drugs for consumers.
A top executive with a pharma MNC said: "We need to know the process of negotiation, what drugs will be part of the exercise and benchmarking is being done for whom. We need clarity on a host of issues before we can decide". Sources, however, pointed out that these were "tactics to delay the issue so it gets prolonged". In European countries, including the UK, Germany and France, where healthcare costs are borne by governments or insurance companies, there is a mechanism in place for negotiating prices of expensive drugs for the benefit of the consumer.
Back home, the government had set up the committee two years back with an intention to keep a check on high prices of imported and patented drugs. Besides the pharma ministry, the committee comprises of officials from NPPA, department of industrial policy and promotion, and health ministry.