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NEW DELHI: Cancer medicines and stents may soon be available at a substantially lower price. The health ministry is working on a model to procure such drugs in bulk at a negotiated price and supply them to hospitals and consumers through its own retail system like ‘Jan Aushadhi’ stores. .
The idea is to bring down prices of expensive cancer drugs and stents while not putting pressure on margins of companies, a health ministry official told TOI. The government is in talks with pharmaceutical companies to implement the scheme.
Currently, prices of only 51 cancer medicines are capped or regulated by the government. However, several oncologists, public health experts and even institutes like Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital have advocated bringing in more cancer drugs under price control as these medicines are extremely expensive and often out of reach of majority of patients.
Following this, the health ministry had planned to bring in more cancer drugs and high-end medical devices like stents directly under price regulation, which would have meant capping their prices. However, the proposal faced strong opposition from the department of pharmaceuticals, which raised concerns about already squeezing margins of manufacturers and a threat to introduction of new drugs in the country.
After the feedback, the health ministry decided to extend CGHS kind of mechanism to cancer medicines and stents for other consumers also, the official said.
The new proposal is also likely to work in favour of the industry as not only their margins will be protected through bulk supplies but supplying at a negotiated price will also take care of the threat they face from compulsory licences whereby other ompanies are allowed to produce patented drugs in public interest.
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In past few years, several multinationals in India had to face a threat of compulsory licence after generic drug manufacturers claimed that they can make patented oncology and anti-retroviral medicines available at much lower prices. In fact, the first, and so far the only one, compulsory licence granted in India to Natco Pharma was also for a kidney cancer drug Nexavar, originally from Bayer.
The second application by BDR Pharma seeking CL was also for Bristol-Myers Squibb’s cancer drug Dasatinib. Though it was rejected by the Patent Office, a fresh application was subsequently submitted to the Centre under Section 92 of the Patents Act, which allows such licences to be issued under cases of national emergency. A decision is yet to be taken on the application.
The latest health ministry’s proposal is likely to get a final shape by end of this year.
Currently, the government regulates a total of 348 medicine formulations, prices of which are fixed by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority. Companies are free to price all other medicines but with an annual increase of only up to 10%. In case of stents, there is no price control. The government negotiates prices only for those supplied under CGHS.