Anticancer Drugs’ Patent Wars!
India’s second largest drug maker, Ciipla announced today in The Economic Times that it is slashing the prices of three anticancer drugs by up to sixty-three percent. It has sent tremors in the ₹1500-crore large anticancer market particularly the multinational drug companies. Even the Indian drug companies marketing their generic versions of the drugs are being forced by this move to reduce their prices as you have to necessarily follow a price-parity policy in the undifferentiated branded generic market to survive.
This is indeed a welcome news to the cancer sufferers. WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that nearly 2.5 million patients are diagnosed with cancer in India every year and cancer would be the deadliest disease over the next decade.
Cipla said yesterday that it reduced its lung cancer drug Erlocip (Erlotinib molecule of Roche marketed under the brand name Tarceva) from ₹ 27,000 to ₹ 9,900 per 30 tablets and from ₹ 10,000 to ₹ 3,700 for 10 tablets. Cipla recently won a patent litigation battle with the Swiss drug maker Roche.
Furthermore, Cipla reduced the prices of two more anticancer drugs used in breast cancer, lung cancer, gastric cancer, and colorectal cancer -Docetaxel (Taxotere of Sanofi Aventis) and Capecitabine (Xeloda of Roche) by half to ₹ 7,000 for 120mg, and ₹ 600 for 10 500 mg tablets respectively.
Earlier, Natco Pharma won the first compulsory license for Bayer’s kidney cancer drug, Nexavar (sorofenib tosylate) and cut the price to ₹ 8,800 from ₹ 280,000, which was the price before the patent ruling. Natco would pay Bayer a royalty of six per cent on net sales.
Last week, Pfizer was denied its patent rights to its anticancer drug, Sutent (sunitinib) indicated for renal cell carcinoma and imatinib-resistant gastro-intestinal stromal tumor (GIST).
Forbes recently reported that it has been a tough few months for Big Pharma’s business interests in India with all these massive price reductions, compulsory licenses and losing patent battles. That these anticancer drugs are expensive and unaffordable by many of the cancer sufferers in India is an undeniable fact.
The perception of the Big Pharma is that the Indian government is going to broaden the scope of this practice, and, in effect ignore the intellectual property rights that exist for hundreds of drugs. The secretary of India’s pharmaceutical department at the same time asserts that, “ Most countries follow some form of price control. We need to ensure that expensive drugs are available at affordable rates for the poor.” It would be callous to argue against this.
It is also worth noting what Marijin Dekkers, the CEO of Bayer said in an interview in this context. He said, “ The danger of pushing the prices of prescription drugs down, down, down is that at some point the business model of developing these drugs will lose its attractiveness… India is becoming very reluctant to respect I P (Intellectual Property) for western companies and that is becoming a challenge for us.”
Big Pharma may want to reconsider outsourcing R&D to Indian companies. If a biopharmaceutical company is going to invest its precious R&D resources someplace, where it would be mutually beneficial.
Both perspectives have merit. How to balance these conflicting interests? What is needed is not a rigid stance but out-of-the-box thinking to find a solution.