Last year, though the growth of the Global Pharmaceutical Industry with a turnover of US$ 752 billion significantly slowed down to just 6.7% due to various contributing factors, the Indian Pharmaceutical Industry continued to maintain a robust of growth of 18% with a turnover of US$ 8.1 billion (IMS 2009).
Need to invest more in R&D:
On a longer term perspective, the domestic industry growth will be significantly driven by the newer products, which will be the outcome of painstaking innovative research and development initiatives. Keeping this point in mind, the fact that today India accounts less than one per cent of over US$130 billion of the worldwide spending on research and development for pharmaceuticals, despite its known strength in process chemistry and abundant talent pool, has started attracting attention of the government.
Robust IPR regime and addressing the needs of the poor both are equally important:
The Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh in his address at the Fortune Global Forum in New Delhi in October, 2007 clearly enunciated, “We have affirmed our commitment to the protection of intellectual property rights. But, the global economy, the global community cannot afford the complete privatization of research, of knowledge generation, especially in fields like medicine. We need to evolve mechanisms that protect intellectual property and at the same time, address the needs of the poor”.
Thus encouragement, reward and protection of IPR and addressing the crying needs of the poor are definitely not an either/or situation. The country needs to address both with equal importance and focus.
‘Vision 2020’ of the Department of Pharmaceuticals:
It is encouraging to note that the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) of the Government of India through its ‘Vision 2020’ initiatives is planning to create a new echo-system in the country to promote new drug discovery platforms. This is expected to catapult the country as one of the top five global pharmaceutical hubs, by 2020 attracting additional investments of around US$ 20 billion to the GDP of the country.
The Primary role of the Pharmaceutical Industry in India, like in many other countries of the world, is to make significant contribution to the healthcare objectives of the nation by meeting the unmet needs of the ailing patients, with innovative affordable medicines. This role can be fulfilled by developing newer medicines through painstaking, time-consuming, risky and expensive basic research initiatives. To help translate this vision into reality appropriate echo-system needs to be created in the country, urgently, for the Pharmaceutical Industry in India to commit themselves to its one of the prime functions of discovering and developing newer medicines not only for the patients in India but for all across the world.
Ongoing efforts in Research & Development (R&D) would require a robust national policy environment that would encourage, protect and reward innovation. Improving healthcare environment in partnership with the Government remains a priority for the Research based Pharmaceutical Companies in India.
Need to tighten the loose knots:
However, in the new paradigm, which has been designed to foster innovation in the country, there are still some loose knots to be tightened up to achieve the set objectives for the nation, in the longer term perspective.
Uncertainty over weak enforcement of patent in the country should be dispelled, with efficient administration of the new patent regime. Regulatory Data Protection should be introduced to spur R&D investment and global collaborative opportunities. This will, in turn, help improving the competitiveness of India vis-à-vis countries like China to attract appreciable investments towards R&D of pharmaceutical and bio-pharmaceutical products. It is believed that the capacity of our judiciary should be expanded and specialized courts that can enforce Pharmaceutical patents be provided with requisite technical expertise.
How to address the core issue of ‘availability of quality medicines at affordable prices’?
India needs to address the root cause of the ‘pricing issue’ affecting ‘access to quality medicines at affordable prices’ to a vast majority of its population, in a holistic way, rather than superficially with a piecemeal approach, as is being done since long.
The policy of ‘stringent price control of medicines’ of the government since 1970, has certainly enabled India to ensure availability of medicines at the lowest price in the world, lower than even the neighbouring countries like, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. However, the core issue of ‘affordability of medicines’ has still remained elusive and will remain so, if we continue to tread this much beaten path, though not so successful in the perspective of the core issue, even today.
This is mainly because, around 40% of our population still costitutes of ‘Below the Poverty Line (BPL)’ families, who, very unfortunately, will not be able to afford any price of medicines. This is vindicated by the WHO report, quoted by even our government that 65% of Indian population has no access to modern medicines, as against 15% in China and 47% in Africa, despite medicines prices being the cheapest in India.
In such a situation, even if prices of all drugs featuring under the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM), anti-cancer and other drugs are brought under stringent price control, the same ‘affordability of medicines’ issue will continue to linger.
Moreover, the recent announcement by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), “as per the Secondary Stock Audit Report of ORG-IMS for the month of April 2010, which covers 60,000 packs, in the non-schedule category, the percentage of packs whose prices have increased on monthly basis during 2009-10, is only in the range of 0.0003 to 4.75%, while the remaining have shown stable to declining prices,” clearly vindicates that unusual price increase of medicines is also not a problem either, in India.
Considering all these points, as I have been suggesting since long, the government should, at least now, allocate adequate fund to cover all BPL families under “Rashtriya Bima Yojona’ and ensure its effective implementation by creating adequate healthcare infrastructure and measurable/transparent delivery systems. Similarly, the rest of the population of the country should be covered by encouraging opening-up and deep penetration of a variety of medical insurance products to suit all pockets together with appropriate tax incentives, as is currently being extended to the ‘Mediclaim’ policy holders.
In all developed countries and many emerging markets like China (where about 85% of the population are covered by different types of healthcare expenditure reimbursement schemes), the issue of ‘affordability of medicines’ has been addressed with such type of approach and other social security measures by their respective governments.
“Employers must take health cover for staff or lose tax gains”: Montek Singh Ahluwalia
It is indeed quite encouraging to note from the report of The Hindu Business Line dated September 9, 2010, as this critical issue is being regularly deliberated through this column, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, has “mooted denial of tax deductibility on wage payment if the employer in the organised sector does not take steps to enrol the employee in a group health insurance scheme. Mr Ahluwalia said employers in the organised sector should be encouraged to make it compulsory for their employees to join a group health insurance scheme, in which the employer and the employee make contributions. As an incentive for this, the insurance premium that is paid can be exempt from tax as India will never be able to expand insurance for which people pay unless an element of incentive-cum-compulsion is introduced”. Mr. Ahuluwalia further commented, “If you leave it to people, only rich people will buy insurance, even middle class people will not buy insurance,” He insisted that “his proposal is feasible and the Government should give it a very serious consideration”.
High incidence of mortality and morbidity burden of India can only be addressed by improving ‘Access to Healthcare’:
Therefore, improving access to healthcare in general and medicines in particular should be on the top priority agenda of the policy makers in our country. High incidence of mortality and morbidity burden in a country like ours can only be addressed by improving Access to healthcare through a concerted partnership oriented strategy. Thus, Pharmaceutical Industry in India should be committed to actively support all efforts from all corners towards this direction to improve Access to Medicines to a vast majority of population in India. Although sporadic, efforts to this direction are being made through various laudable Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Initiatives by both local and global pharmaceutical companies within the country.
Pharmaceutical Industry also needs to behave as a responsible corporate citizen:
Another area of focus should be on good corporate governance. This encompasses adherence to high ethical standards in clinical trials, regulatory and legal compliance, working to prevent corrupt activities, high ethical standard in promotion of medicines and addressing all other issues that support good healthcare policies of the Government. In addition, the Pharmaceutical Industry should take active measures to involve all concerned to fight the growing menace of counterfeit and spurious medicines which significantly harm the patients all over the country.
It is obvious that the Pharmaceutical Industry alone will have a limited role to address the key healthcare issues of our nation. All stakeholders like the government, corporate and the civil society in general must contribute according to their respective capabilities, obligations and enlightened societal interests to effectively address these pressing issues.
However, it is worth reiterating that the Pharmaceutical Industry in India should continue to act responsibly and demonstrate commitment to work closely in collaboration with all stakeholders to make newer innovative medicines both preventive and therapeutic available and accessible adequately at an affordable price to the ailing population of the nation. Thus, in my view, for the progress of the nation, creating a robust IPR friendly ‘Echo System’ and ‘Improving Access to Quality Medicine at an Affordable Price’, are certainly not an either/or situation for the astute policy makers in India, as is being made out to be at some quarters.
By Tapan Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.