Some key cancer drugs, antibiotics and medicines to treat cardiovascular diseases and tuberculosis are set to become cheaper by up to 50 per cent within the next 45 days. The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) will soon notify prices of as many as 150 packs of essential medicines in line with the new pharma pricing policy, according to official sources.
Once the new price notification is in place, the maximum retail prices (MRPs) of many cancer drugs will fall 10-30 per cent on an average - some as much as 50 per cent. Similarly, prices of cardiovascular drugs will come down 20-30 per cent, while those specifically used as anti-hypertension medicines will get 15-30 per cent cheaper. According to an official, prices of antibiotics will see a major change. "The range of price cut in antibiotics will be 15-50 per cent, depending on strength," he said. For instance, the MRP of paracetamol, a key analgesic used for pain relief, would drop 25-55 per cent. While paracetamol injection will get 25 per cent cheaper, prices of syrups and tablets will fall 35 and 55 per cent, respectively.
These prices are calculated on the basis of the Drug Price Control Order (DPCO), 2013, recently notified by the government in line with the new pharma pricing policy cleared by the government last year. DPCO mandates NPPA to cap prices of 348 essential medicines based on an arithmetic average of all drugs in a particular segment that have market share of more than one per cent. However, the drugs currently priced below the cap would not be allowed to hike prices to match the cap. This is significant as the new formula does not allow prices to go up from the current level.
This will be the first set of price notification by the regulator. "In the first phase, we are notifying only those categories and drugs for which we have ample data and calculation is done. Within 15-20 days, we will notify the next lot," the official said. The new drug pricing policy includes price regulation of 652 packs of 348 essential medicines. The official clarified new prices would be notified only for those additional drugs that now enter the scheduled category, whereas those already under price control could be sold at the existing MRP for one year.
Firms like GlaxoSmithKline, Cipla, Ranbaxy, Dr Reddy's Labs and Abbott, which are currently selling these essential medicines, will have 45 days from the date of notification to replace the existing stock with new packs carrying revised MRPs.
However, industry players, including pharmacists, say a 45-day period is too short to replace stocks, especially from the rural areas. It might lead to shortage of medicines.
According to Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance Director-General D G Shah, the industry fears the prices fixed by the regulator are not in line with the policy approved by the Cabinet. "Our concern is that NPPA's price fixation should be consistent with the pharma policy as approved by the Cabinet and there must not be deviation from that. That will shake the confidence between the industry and the regulator."
On the other hand, patient groups are unhappy over the policy and are waiting for the Supreme Court to hear the matter again. "There are various loopholes in the policy that dilute the impact for patients. For instance, it exempts patented products and medicines with new drug delivery system. All essential medicines for diseases like cancer and hypertension are patented and those not patented are out of use," says K M Gopakumar of Third World Network.